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Largest Colorado fire 30 percent contained

Sunset breaks through smoke of the Hayman wildfire Friday near Deckers, Colorado, south of Denver.  

CASTLE ROCK, Colorado. (CNN) -- Firefighters have contained 30 percent of the Hayman fire, the largest in Colorado's recorded history, with the help of favorable weather conditions and elite firefighting reinforcements.

The blaze had been only 5 percent contained Friday. An early break in the weather and expected rain Saturday afternoon allowed for progress in battling the 103,000-acre (15-square-mile) blaze, said Joe Colwell, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

"We're expecting good conditions up until about 11 o'clock," Colwell said. "Then there's that midday period we have to watch out for. After 2, we'll maybe have some thunderstorms and hopefully some moisture."

The fire forced about 5,400 people in communities south of Denver to evacuate. Some of those were allowed to return home, but many remained at area hotels, Red Cross evacuation centers and the homes of friends and family Friday night.

CNN's Lilian Kim reports on the firefighters battling the Hayman fire. (June 13)

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Some 131 evacuees were allowed to visit their homes in the Pike National Forest for a couple of hours under Forest Service escort Friday, said Attilla Denes, a sergeant for the Douglas County Sheriff's Department.

A voluntary evacuation order affecting more than 15,000 people in the southern metro Denver area was lifted late Thursday.

"We feel comfortable enough with the safety of the situation to allow people back to their homes," Denes said.

Worried residents closer to Colorado Springs than Denver waited Friday for word on whether they will have to evacuate.

Colorado Springs, 30 miles east of the leading edge of fire in the south, was not threatened.

Officials said temperatures were expected to rise again Saturday and Sunday, prompting firefighters to work as fast as possible to gain control of the blaze.

"If we could have a couple of more days of good weather, we won't be anywhere near containment, but we'll be a lot better off," Freeland said.

Officials estimate the damage so far at just under $3 million, said Melissa Maestas, an information officer at the southern command center.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth called for a long-term, planned program to eliminate the buildup of fuel materials in forests to prevent future dangerous wildfires.

"What needs to happen is an active thinning and burning program," Bosworth said. "If we had been doing this for 10 or 15 years, I believe it would have made a significant difference."

Firefighters work Friday on the Hayman fire near Deckers.  

The Hayman wildfire, burning since Saturday in the craggy foothills of the eastern Rockies just south of Denver, could still double in area if the winds and weather conspire to push it farther.

The fire could take up to three months to control, said Mit Parsons, fire information officer with the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

"With a fire this size, it's very complex and this is pretty rugged country," Parsons said. "It's going to take some time to do something like this" and weather remains the key.

Officials believe the fire started from an illegal campfire in the Hayman area of Pike National Forest and quickly spread across the tinderbox-dry conifer forest.

The fire has destroyed at least 22 homes, said Parsons, and 10 commercial buildings have been destroyed, with more possible.




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