Crews seek upper hand on raging Colorado wildfires

Associated Press
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In this photo taken on Monday, June 18, 2012, and made available Wednesday by the Colorado National Guard, a helicopter drops a load of water above the High Park wildfire, about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colo. The fire already has destroyed at least 189 homes since it was sparked by lightning June 9. (AP Photo/Colorado National Guard , Jess Geffre)

BELLVUE, Colo. (AP) — More people evacuated by a northern Colorado wildfire are set to return home Thursday, the second wave of evacuees allowed back in as many days as firefighters attempt to encircle the blaze that has burned over 100 square miles.

Other evacuees were allowed to return Wednesday, but some kept their bags packed because they were warned to stay ready to leave again.

Firefighters are trying to increase containment lines around the fire and put out hotspots within the burn area before a return to more hot weather Friday.

Bill Hahnenberg, the incident commander for the fire, said he was optimistic about the prospects for extending the lines before the weather turns worse.

"We are making progress," he said Thursday.

The fire is blamed for the death of one person and has destroyed at least 189 homes, making it the most destructive in Colorado history. The Denver Post reports the estimated $19.6 million spent to battle the fire also marks a state high ( ). It's 55 percent contained.

It's one of several burning across the West, including in New Mexico, where more than 100 firefighters were battling blaze in wooded area along the Rio Grande on the northern edge of Albuquerque.

Residents near the approximately 280-acre fire are on alert but no one has been evacuated.

Firefighters are also making progress against another blaze in Colorado. A 2-square-mile wildfire near Lake George, is 39 percent contained, despite a meteor warning that led authorities to temporarily ground firefighting aircraft Wednesday.

Chaffee County Sheriff W. Peter Palmer said his office received multiple reports, including one person who thought a meteorite might have landed in a wooded area north of Buena Vista. The crew of a heavy air tanker spotted something while making a slurry run on the blaze, said Steve Segin, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Palmer said no meteorite was found.

The Colorado sightings corresponded with a report of a possible meteor filed by the crews of two commercial aircraft over Liberal, Kan., as well as another from Raton, N.M., near the Colorado state line, said meteorologist Scott Entrekin of the National Weather Service in Boulder.


__ In California, firefighters have gotten the upper hand on a 385-acre fire near Sequoia National Park and evacuees have been allowed to return to their homes and cabins. A body was found at the scene of a small brushfire in the San Fernando Valley and authorities are trying to determine whether it was dumped there.

— In Wyoming, Firefighters a wildfire burning on over 4 square miles in a remote and mountainous area of the Medicine Bow National Forest was 5 percent contained.

— In New Mexico, a fire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses in southern New Mexico was 60 percent contained. A fire in the Gila Wilderness, the largest in state history, is at 463 square miles and is 80 percent contained.

— In Arizona, the wildfire that caused haze in Phoenix made a rapid run to the east Wednesday, spreading under twin transmission lines that send power to the state's major metropolitan areas. Firefighters reinforced containment lines to the north to keep the 8,100-acre blaze from reaching two small communities about three miles away.

— In Hawaii, the largest wildfire of the season has scorched at least 5,200 acres on the Big Island. Two separate fires have been burning there since Monday. One came dangerously close to a hospital and forced the closure of its emergency room.