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CNN Today

Wildfires Threaten Lives, Homes Along Colorado Rockies; Fire Official Discusses 'Defensive' Efforts

Aired June 13, 2000 - 2:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Areas of Colorado are under a state of emergency today as two devastating wildfires threaten lives and homes along the front range of the Rockies. One is the Bailey Fire, about 35 miles southwest of Denver. The other is the Bobcat Fire, about 50 miles northwest of Denver.

Governor Bill Owens left by chopper about an hour ago to survey the damage, which so far has covered a total of about 5,000 acres. The governor said the first priority was to get people out of harm's way with mandatory evacuations. Second priority: save homes. At least five homes have been destroyed in the Bailey Fire since yesterday. Given the dry terrain and gusting winds, fire officials fear it may be weeks before the Bailey and Bobcat fires finally are brought under control.

For the latest now on the situation Larimer County, site of the rapidly moving Bobcat Fire, we're joined by Raj Chohan of our affiliate in Denver, KCNC.

RAJ CHOHAN, KCNC REPORTER: Lou, the fire is still on the move. The winds are picking up out here, and right now there's not a lot these firefighters can do to stop it, so they've adopted a defensive posture. What that essentially means is that they're moving people out of high-risk areas and forming perimeters around buildings and property to save as many homes as they possibly can. They really have to let the fire do what it's going to do at this point.

Joining me now is Justin Dombrowski, the public information officer for this wildland firefighting effort.

Justin, tell us about where the fire is right now and where it's heading.

JUSTIN DOMBROWSKI, FIRE OFFICIAL: Basically, the fire is up here in the canyon and it's just moving all the way around this subdivision of about 125 homes. So basically, the fire crews have been trying to save these homes and stop the fire there as the fire just basically heads eastwards into the mountains.

CHOHAN: OK, any large, significant development of homes, any subdivisions out that way that we need to be concerned about?

DOMBROWSKI: There are scatterings of homes further in the distance, and it could become a problem if these winds keep up.

CHOHAN: At what point does the firefighting effort move from a defensive mode into an attack mode?

DOMBROWSKI: Once we can get enough resources of firefighters on hand that we can actually safely protect the homes, we can then start circling around the fire and trying to get a hold on it.

CHOHAN: What's the real dangerous thing right now facing people who are, perhaps, freelancing, heading back up to their homes by themselves without permission?

DOMBROWSKI: The fire has been so extreme and erratic that we've had some really bad spotting and new fires all over the place. And so it's really -- the whole area is a dangerous place for people to go up into.

CHOHAN: How is weather playing into a factor here?

DOMBROWSKI: Well, we haven't gotten a break from the weather. I mean, it's been warm at night, which means the fire behavior has still been -- it's been kicking up. And during the daytime, we've been having some troubling winds.

CHOHAN: OK, Justin Dombrowski, thank you very much.

To summarize right now, we can tell you about 2,600 acres have burned thus far, 300 to 400 people have been evacuated, and two structures have been confirmed lost, though officials say there may be more. We can tell you also that this fire apparently started from a camp fire that got out of control; certainly an ill-advised campfire, at that.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Raj, are there folks, as you put it, "freelancing" in the area, ignoring these mandatory evacuation orders?

CHOHAN: We're finding situations where people have pets, dogs and cats, left up in their homes. They were separated from them yesterday and the roads were blocked off by the time these folks had come home. Some of them have actually hiked up into the woods, into the fire zone to retrieve these animals.

WATERS: Raj Chohan, from KCNC, thanks for your help.

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