Cooler weather could help effort to douse Colorado wildfire


WESTCLIFFE, Colo. – Cooler and calmer weather on Tuesday should help crews fighting a wildfire in southern Colorado that mushroomed to 24 square miles in its first day, officials said.

The fire was reported before dawn Monday east of the small town of Westcliffe near the Rocky Mountain foothills.

Gusty winds helped it spread quickly, destroying one home and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people. The winds also grounded water-dropping helicopters.

The fire sent up large plumes of smoke, which led to a health advisory for people living as far east as Pueblo, about 25 miles from Westcliffe. It also destroyed five outbuildings.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Dawn Sanchez told the Pueblo Chieftain that 156 homes were under a mandatory evacuation notice, while residents of another 140 were told to be ready to leave.

The cause of the fire was unknown. But a stretch of dry, warm weather has raised the fire danger in much of Colorado, especially on windy days.

Officials said evacuations could be ordered for the small town of Beulah, which was evacuated because of another wildfire earlier this month. That fire is believed to have been started by an excavator operator working in a ditch, possibly by creating a spark.

To the north, firefighters contained more than half of a 14-acre wildfire in Pike National Forest about 10 miles northwest of Colorado Springs on Monday. No structures were damaged.

Oscar Martinez, a district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, said he hoped crews could fully contain the fire on Tuesday.

The fire was reported Monday afternoon near Rampart Reservoir. Its cause was unknown.

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