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Wildfire may force 40,000 from Denver area

'Real scary, dangerous fire'

Homeowners and their animals evacuate homes Monday near Sedalia.  

DENVER, Colorado (CNN) -- A fast-moving wildfire in the Pike National Forest more than doubled in size to 75,000 acres Monday and threatened a residential area south of Denver, prompting preparations for the largest evacuation yet, state officials said Monday.

Authorities have drawn up plans to evacuate as many as 40,000 people from the southwestern outskirts of Denver.

Officials Monday evening were preparing to evacuate Perry Park subdivision, a residential neighborhood with a population of 1,549 people, according to Sgt. Atilla Denes of the Douglas County Sheriff's office.

Another 2,049 people were on high alert, as the fire appeared headed directly for Roxborough Park.

Fueled by high winds and temperatures, low humidity and dense forest conditions, the wildfire has spread over 75,880 acres and is moving at a faster rate than Sunday night when it was blazing through 500 acres per hour. It began as an illegal campfire 40 miles from Denver.

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"Now it's making a run today. It's run 19 miles [30 kilometers] from where the fire started. It's a real scary, dangerous fire," said Lynn Young, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which is coordinating firefighting efforts.

Dubbed the Hayman fire, it is the largest of eight blazes burning in Colorado at a cost of millions of dollars a day, with climatic conditions impeding efforts at containment. (Map)

"Colorado today is being tested in a way it has never been tested before," said Gov. Bill Owens. He estimated the Hayman fire could spread to 100,000 acres by the end of the day.

'Evacuation is essential'

Young said the fire was crowning high in the trees, preventing firefighters from getting out in front to contain it.

"There is nothing that can be done under current weather and fuel conditions," Owens said. "Evacuation for those who in the path of this fires is essential. You must not try to defend yourself or your property against this fire."

A spokesman for the Colorado State Forest Service said plans were being made to evacuate as many as 40,000 people from an area just southwest of Denver, a city protected by its terrain -- a plain surrounded by flat grasslands, with few trees to burn.

He said the evacuations would be conducted in stages as the fire spreads.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people were evacuated Sunday in Park, Jefferson and Douglas counties.

Another 147 households were ordered evacuated Monday in Douglas County as the fire moved forward, according to the sheriff's office.

"The fire is continuing at its previous rate," said Sgt. Atilla Denes of the Douglas County Sheriff's office. "We are watching the fire's behavior very closely. This is a fire of unprecedented proportions for this part of the country and we are very concerned about it."

In Jefferson County, several hundred people were being evacuated from Tarryall Reservoir, as fickle winds whipped the southern part of the fire in different directions, according to Sgt. Don Anthony of the Park County sheriff's office.

Several hundred people had also been evacuated Sunday in Jefferson County.

Numerous local roads, including part of Colorado 67, have been closed.

'Some have lost everything'

The second big fire, in western Colorado near Glenwood Springs, was continuing to burn but "remained stable," according to the state Forest Service.

That fire has overlapped the path of the 1994 Storm King fire, where 14 firefighters were killed when the winds changed the direction of the fire, trapping them in the blaze.

Anthony said this was the reason firefighters were not deploying in front of the current blazes.

The fire had spread across 7,300 acres and had burned more than 40 buildings, including 23 homes and one commercial structure.

About 2,000 people were evacuated from houses and nearby lodges in western Glenwood Springs -- some to the Spring Valley Campus of Colorado Mountain College -- seven miles southeast of town on Highway 82.

Glenwood Springs
Sunday's damage from the wildfire in Glenwood Springs  

Red Cross representative Kathleen Golding said about 200 people had already made their way to the campus, which had opened its cafeteria and dormitory rooms.

"We know for a fact that a lot of people here won't go home before Wednesday," Golding said.

"Some have lost everything. There's a family of six children and mom and dad, elderly and the handicapped," describing the crowd inside the cafeteria. Golding said 16 beds set aside for the handicapped were instantly filled.

The Glenwood Springs fire may have started from a coal seam in the area that has been burning since the 1970s. Officials said the seam had been blamed for starting other fires in the past.

Glenwood Springs is about 160 miles west of Denver along Interstate 70.

Colorado is a tinderbox with the fire threat in half the state rated in the extreme category, with the rest of Rocky Mountain state earning a high to very high fire danger rating from the Forest Service.


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