Fire Rages in Colorado, Long Evacuation Ahead

DEL NORTE, Colo. (AP) -

A colossal wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday.

The weather has prevented fire crews from making progress on the blaze, which grew overnight to 108 square miles, up from 100 on Saturday. The speed with which the fire has spread is exceptional: It was just below 50 square miles Friday evening.

No structures have been lost in the fire, and no injuries have been reported.

It is doubtful fire crews could establish any containment lines until there’s a break in the weather, possibly Tuesday, officials said.

As of Sunday, firefighters were busy protecting South Fork, the Wolf Creek ski area, and homes along Highway 149.

Crews hoped to get aircraft up to drop water over the fire before afternoon winds of 30 to 40 miles an hour returned. Pete Blume, a commander with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Command Team, said the wildfire is the worst ever known to hit the Rio Grande National Forest.

“It’s not typical to have these kinds of fires here,” said Blume. “But beetle kill and drought is also not the norm.”

The lightning-sparked blaze started June 5, but its rapid advance Friday prompted the evacuation of hundreds of visitors and the town’s 400 permanent residents.

Residents and tourists were settling in for a long wait before they can return to their homes, cabins and RV parks.

Elsewhere in Colorado, about a dozen fires also continued to burn. Firefighters were making progress on a 19-square-mile wildfire near Walsenburg in southern Colorado. The fire was 10 percent contained.

And a wildfire in foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver was expected to be fully contained Sunday evening. That fire burned 511 acres and forced 100 people to leave their homes.