Fire destroys dozen homes in Colorado

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Wetmore, Colo. • A wildfire that forced the evacuation of hundreds of people in and around a small southern Colorado town has destroyed at least 12 houses, authorities said Wednesday.

The count could go up after a survey of the damage near Wetmore, an unincorporated town about 100 miles south of Denver, fire spokesman Ralph Bellah said.

About 380 people were evacuated in Custer County after the fire broke out Tuesday and quickly grew to about 2 1/2 square miles in winds gusting up to 79 mph. The fire continued to spread through the night, forcing authorities to go door-to-door to evacuate seven homes in neighboring Pueblo County.

Meanwhile, a new blaze that broke out from a trash burn on private land in southwest Colorado prompted evacuations Wednesday in Montezuma County. Winds pushed that fire across an estimated 100 acres, fire officials said. The Roatcap Fire was threatening about 100 homes, power lines and a Colorado Department of Transportation storage facility, the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center said.

Back near Wetmore, firefighters were working to build containment lines around the fire, but more strong winds could ground firefighting helicopters and small air tankers for a second day. Winds could gust to around 30 mph, and temperatures were expected to be in the 60s.

Dry, windy conditions were expected across southeastern Colorado and parts of neighboring New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. However, a cold front moving in later in the day could bring snow or rain to the fire, raising some hope that Colorado's protracted fire season could be nearing an end.

"That's what we said last week," Bellah said.

The fire season in Colorado started in March, usually one of the snowiest months in the state, with a blaze that burned 6 square miles and killed three people in the foothills outside Denver.

Fire managers also hope the change in weather will help stop the growth of a 1 1/2-square-mile wildfire burning in Rocky Mountain National Park. Parts of it have flared up because of strong winds in recent days, and officials were monitoring it to make sure it doesn't move beyond the park.

The cause of the Wetmore Fire was still under investigation, but wind may be to blame. Custer County Sheriff Fred Jobe told The Denver Post that colliding power lines apparently created sparks that ignited dry brush.