BAILEY, Colo. – A 2,000-acre wildfire jumped from treetop to treetop Wednesday as gusting winds pushed it past containment lines and authorities evacuated this mountain town.
About 1,000 homes and a dozen businesses were threatened, and one outbuilding burned. Crews stood ready to defend downtown buildings as about 200 firefighters battled the fire, assisted by aircraft dropping slurry.
At least four schools were closed and a stretch of Highway 285 was shut down. Sheriff's deputies were gearing up for more evacuations.
"We've got a serious situation here, and we're really working hard," fire information officer Terry McCann said.
The number of firefighters was expected to double Thursday with the arrival of reinforcements, many flying in from the Northwest.
Resident Joe Williams, wearing a soiled dust mask, drove out of the hills in a station wagon stuffed with belongings.
"We knew it was just a matter of time," Williams said. "All they told us was that it blew up."
The fire broke out Tuesday in this town of 4,400 people 35 miles southwest of Denver, and spread quickly through grass, brush and ponderosa pine. Authorities were investigating whether the fire might have been caused by a cigarette.
Hundreds fled their homes as officials walked through the streets, using loudspeakers to warn residents.
"It's surreal. It's like something you see in a movie or read in a book, but now I'm an active participant," resident Lois Miller said.
Residents of several subdivisions were allowed to return home Wednesday night.
A winter drought has left Colorado forests, farms and ranges bone dry, ushering in an early wildfire season.
Crews also battled a 615-acre wildfire in Larimer County that began last week. Containment was predicted by Friday.
In New Mexico, four fires broke out, including a 300-acre fire in the Magdalena Mountains in the central part of the state that was about 50 percent contained Wednesday.
In Arizona, a fire burning about 1,000 acres of grass, oak and brush on federal and private lands in the Baboquivari Wilderness about 45 miles southwest of Tucson was 60 percent contained.