Hundreds evacuated from Colorado wildfires

Hundreds evacuated from Colorado wildfires
AP Photo/The Yuma Pioneer

A fast-moving wildfire in the US has destroyed a number of homes in the mountains west of Denver and burned across more than 4.5 square miles amid dry, windy weather.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said that one person had been found dead, but the victim has not yet been identified.

The cause of death has not been revealed and authorities are investigating.

The department said authorities do not know how many houses were lost but said it was likely to be more than 10.

Authorities also ordered residents of more than 900 homes to evacuate.

Sheriff department’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said: “We’re in a defensive mode, structure protection only. We’re not really fighting the fire right now.”

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but a sheriff’s deputy who was alerting residents to leave was trapped in his patrol car after he inadvertently drove into a ditch in the thick smoke, Ms Kelley said.

Up to a dozen smaller fires were reported from the north-east Colorado plains to the southern part of the state. There were no immediate reports of injuries or structures destroyed in any of the other fires.

The largest fire was burning about 25 miles south west of Denver in a rugged, largely rural area where the altitude ranges from 7,000 to 8,200 feet. The region of pines and grassland is dotted with hamlets and the occasional expensive home. It is several miles – and mountain ridges – west of Denver’s tightly populated south-western suburbs, which were not threatened.

The fire apparently flared up from a prescribed burn conducted in the area last week, Ms Kelley said. Prescribed burns are usually done to thin out vegetation in hopes of reducing the chances of a major wildfire.

About 100 firefighters are expected to spend the night protecting homes. Officials are calling in help from as far away as Arizona and hoped to be able to have air tankers drop fire retardant on the flames today.

Shelters were set up in two high schools and the Red Cross said it was preparing to send cots and blankets.

The National Weather Service said sustained winds of up to 40mph hit the fire area with gusts up to 55mph, but they began to die down after sunset.

“But it’s so dry out there now that even a 15mph to 20mph wind is going to spread the fire,” said weather service meteorologist Bob Kleyla.

Billows of smoke were visible from downtown Denver. Mr Kleyla said weather radar showed the smoke plume had drifted about 100 miles to the north east by nightfall, and state health officials warned smoke could linger and affect air quality until Tuesday afternoon.

Denver airport officials said high winds delayed arriving and departing flights by up to 60 minutes on Monday night.

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