A helicopter lifts off after taking on water to drop on the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins, Colo., on Monday, June 18, 2012. The wildfire has now burned about 90 square miles and destroyed more than 180 homes. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
BELLVUE, Colo. (AP) — Firefighters are making progress on a 93-square-mile wildfire in northern Colorado that has destroyed more homes than any other in state history, but more residents were warned Tuesday to be ready to leave because of a spot fire that ignited near the main fire.
Meanwhile a fire burning on an estimated 250 acres of private land west of Craig was threatening structures and prompted an unknown number of evacuations Tuesday night, Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd said.
The larger blaze west of Fort Collins was 55 percent contained after firefighters labored in temperatures in the 90s to extend lines around the fire Monday. Cooler temperatures were expected Wednesday, with a chance of isolated thunderstorms Thursday.
The fire already has destroyed at least 189 homes since it was sparked by lightning June 9. Incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said it could be weeks or even months before it's finally controlled.
The wildfire is one of several across the West forcing people to flee, including another blaze in Colorado that has driven out nuns living in a monastery, Boy Scouts at camp and residents of about 150 homes.
The Protection of the Holy Virgin Monastery was evacuated as a precaution Sunday after the fire started in the foothills west of Colorado Springs.
A nun who returned to feed the chickens at the remote monastery Tuesday said the fire was about two miles from the site. She said sacred items from the chapel, including a chalice, along with insurance papers and historical documents were removed Sunday as slurry bombers flew over the property.
The fire has burned nearly 2 square miles, and fire managers said it still has the potential to grow in an area where logs are drier than pine boards from a lumber yard.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said Tuesday his agency is adding four heavy helicopters to its firefighting fleet. Two S-61s owned by Siller Helicopters of Yuba City, Calif.; an S-64 Skycrane owned by Erickson Air Crane of Central Point, Ore.; and an S-70 owned by Firehawk Helicopters of Leesburg, Fla., will be available for any fire in the U.S., he said.
In California, firefighters were able to contain 75 percent of a nearly 1,000-acre wildfire in mountainous eastern San Diego County despite gusty winds that kicked up Tuesday and low humidity levels.
It remained calm around the fire east of Campo from Monday night into Tuesday despite wind warnings, and firefighters were able to increase containment from 30 percent to 75 percent, said Capt. Mike Mohler of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
More than 900 firefighters were battling the rural blaze Tuesday afternoon. Full containment was expected Wednesday night.
One mobile home and recreational vehicle were burned, and 150 homes have been evacuated. Evacuation orders remained in effect Tuesday because of road conditions and emergency equipment in the area, Mohler said.
One firefighter was treated for minor heat exhaustion and returned to duty. The cause of the wildfire, which started Sunday, is under investigation.
— In Idaho, a fast-moving wildfire near Mountain Home destroyed six homes and several outbuildings Monday evening. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Mallory Eils said 25 to 30 homes in the area were evacuated before firefighters got the blaze under control. The fire burned about 150 acres. Its cause was unknown.
— In Wyoming, more experienced fire managers and crews took over the fight against a wildfire burning in a rough, mountainous area of the Medicine Bow National Forest. The fire has burned about 4 square miles since Sunday. About 40 residents of the area's scattered ranches and cabins have been advised to evacuate. There was no containment of the fire as of Tuesday afternoon, and its cause remained under investigation.
— In New Mexico, firefighters were taking advantage of favorable weather conditions to battle a wildfire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses. More than 1,100 firefighters remained in Ruidoso as they fight to hold the Little Bear Fire that is now 60 percent contained.
Another fire broke out Monday and burned three structures along a 5-mile stretch of the San Juan River in far northwestern New Mexico. The fire, burning east of Bloomfield, has charred about 350 acres and is 50 percent contained.
A fire in the Gila Wilderness, already the largest in state history, grew another 1,000 acres to 463 square miles and is 80 percent contained.
— In Arizona, firefighters were building containment lines around a 3,700-acre blaze on the Tonto National Forest to try to protect electric transmission lines that provide power to the state's major metropolitan areas. The fire was 15 percent contained Tuesday.
— In Nevada, a 10,000-acre wildfire north of Ely was 15 percent contained. Aerial mapping showed the fire was smaller than thought.
— In northwest Nebraska, a fire has charred an estimated 5,000 acres in Sioux County. Fire officials said it was 50 percent to 65 percent contained Tuesday afternoon.
— In Hawaii, Big Island firefighters were battling a large brushfire that closed a hospital emergency room and required 15 patients to be evacuated. Fire officials say heavy smoke from the wildfire that started Monday at a macadamia nut orchard required the evacuation of Kau Hospital, in Pahala, as flames got within 75 yards away. Patients were relocated to a community center. An estimated 2,300 acres burned as of Tuesday afternoon, with the fire still not contained.
Meanwhile, Maui firefighters contained a 6-acre wildfire that started Monday and damaged three homes.