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More wind and heat could hamper Colorado wildfire fight

Story highlights

  • Colorado's High Park Fire consumes 59,500 acres and is 50% contained
  • A North Carolina wildfire scorches 21,248 acres and is 20% contained
  • New Mexico's historic wildfire is now 82% contained after burning 296,000 acres

Forecasters are expecting warmer than normal temperatures and gusty winds Tuesday in a northern Colorado area already ravaged by a wildfire, not a good combination for the legion of firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze.

The High Park Fire had consumed 59,500 acres of woodland by Tuesday, but it was about 50% contained, authorities reported.

Tuesday's forecast by the National Weather Service is similar to Monday's blazing heat and winds that whipped up the blaze.

But firefighters say they can handle the weather conditions because winds are expected to be less "tough" than what they experienced on Sunday.

iReport: Photos capture smoke choking Colorado sky

"The expected winds were not as strong as they were. The amount of fire activity in the big timber on the western perimeter was not as extreme," fire information officer Brett Haberstick said, according to CNN affiliate KCNC. "We have a lot less smoke and a lot better working conditions for the crews."

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More than 1,700 personnel were battling the blaze.

Lighting ignited the fire that started on June 9 and has destroyed 189 homes. That number is expected to grow, and firefighters are also concerned that the blaze could shift toward dense stands of trees that have been killed by beetle infestations, according to InciWeb, a U.S. multiagency fire response website.

The blaze has moved through forests and neighborhoods, forcing thousands of evacuations and leaving a trail of destruction. It has claimed the life of a 62-year-old woman found dead in her burned home last week.

Elsewhere in Colorado, firefighters are battling a fire near Pagosa Springs that broke out last month. That blaze, also blamed on lightning, had grown to more than 13,000 acres by Monday night and was 30% contained.

And a new fire broke out Sunday and quickly spread to 200 acres near Pueblo, forcing some evacuations of residents.

In New Mexico, the Whitewater Baldy Fire has scorched more than 296,000 acres, the agriculture secretary said.

More than 3,200 fire personnel from across the United States are helping local departments battle the fire, which began on May 16. The blaze was 82% contained as of Monday.

In North Carolina, a wildfire doubled overnight in the Croatan National Forest along the Atlantic coast, U.S. Forest Service officials said Tuesday.

Donald Simon, a Forest Service spokesperson, said the blaze has consumed 21,248 acres since Saturday, including 6,000 acres that were intentionally set afire Monday night in a fire-control effort.

The wildfire is 20% contained and isn't threatening structures, officials said. A large portion of the fire is in the Sheep Ridge Wilderness area, officials said.

"Smoke is our bigger issue," Simon said. "This morning in New Bern (North Carolina), it was like traveling through a thick fog. If you live by, there's a lot of ash floating by."

As northern Colorado blaze grows, a look at the dangers of wildfires