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Tuesday May 31st, 2016 12:42PM

Homes evacuated as wildfire flares near Denver

By The Associated Press
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EVERGREEN, Colo. (AP) -- Dozens of homes were evacuated near Denver as a wind-driven wildfire flared, one of many in the western states where hot and windy conditions were making it easy for the wild land blazes to start and spread.

The fire in the foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver forced evacuations Wednesday affecting more than 100 people, Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said. The Lime Gulch Fire in Pike National Forest was estimated at 500 acres, the U.S. Forest Service said. Mink said no structures appeared to be threatened.

"The good news is, it's a very sparsely populated area as far as houses go," Mink said.

Hundreds of firefighters in Arizona were preparing for more hot, windy weather Thursday, which could help fuel a wildfire in Prescott National Forest that has already scorched nearly 12 square miles. The blaze erupted Tuesday afternoon and led to the evacuation of 460 homes.

To the north, smoke from another fire that broke out Wednesday was visible from Grand Canyon National Park. No structures were immediately threatened.

A blaze in southern New Mexico's Gila National Forest grew to 47 square miles.

But in northern California, hundreds of residents returned home as crews aided by lower temperatures and higher humidity extended their lines around a wildfire near a main route into Yosemite National Park, officials said. Only about 50 homes on two mountain roads remained under evacuation orders, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. The fire, sparked Sunday by a campfire that wasn't fully put out, led to the evacuation of about 800 homes at its peak.

In southern California, a nearly 6-square-mile fire in the San Bernardino National Forest was 83 percent contained.

The fire near Denver was burning in steep, heavily forested mountain terrain, south of where last year's Lower North Fork Fire damaged and destroyed 23 homes and killed three people. That fire was triggered by a prescribed burn that escaped containment lines.

Mink said the fire might have been sparked by lightning Tuesday, then quickly grew in high winds Wednesday.

Some evacuees said they were ready to leave Wednesday in minutes, having practiced fire evacuations after the Lower North Fork Fire.

Karalyn Pytel was at home vacuuming when her husband called, saying he had received an alert on his cellphone telling the family to leave. She quickly grabbed her 6-year-old daughter's favorite blanket, a laptop computer, a jewelry box and some family heirlooms before fleeing.

"I grabbed a laundry basket and just threw stuff in it. I don't even know what clothes they are," Pytel said as she arrived at an evacuation center.

Firefighters were aided by two U.S. Air Force Reserve C-130s.

C-130s also were used at a 22-square-mile wildfire near Colorado Springs that has destroyed 509 homes and killed two people since it started June 11.

In western Colorado, a wind-driven wildfire near Rangely prompted the evacuation of a youth camp Wednesday. Rio Blanco County Undersheriff Michael Joos said the camp wasn't in immediate danger, but about 40 kids and a half dozen adults were asked to leave due to high winds.

Evacuations also were ordered due to a wildfire in rural Huerfano County in southern Colorado.

Pytel was asked whether the evacuation changed her mind about living in a mountainous area at high risk for wildfires.

"No matter where you go, really, it's always something. It's either a tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake (or) a fire. For us, it's our tornado," Pytel said.
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