DENVER -- Two wind-driven wildfires in the Colorado Front Range burned out of control Wednesday, engulfing more than 13,000 acres in blazes that have burned dozens of houses and forced hundreds to evacuate their homes.
The two fires, Hi Meadow, southwest of Denver and the Bobcat, north of Denver, were each estimated at 6,640 acres, said Lynn Young, fire information officer at the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, said. Some 1,000 firefighters were on the scene and more were expected to arrive.
The Hi Meadow fire, sparked by lightning, has caused more damage, destroying 39 homes and other structures, compared with five in the Bobcat fire, officials said. Officials said an illegal campfire was the cause of the Bobcat fire.
Fire fighters hoped to be able to contain about 25 percent of the Hi Meadow fire overnight Wednesday.
But most attention was focused on forecasts of a cold front Thursday morning. "That's bad news for firefighters," Young said. "Because erratic winds come ahead of a cold front."
Erratic winds spell trouble because it becomes dangerous to place firefighters at the front line, Young said. "It's too difficult to predict which way the fire might go," he said.
A third small fire broke out near Boulder, Colorado, Wednesday, but firefighters were quickly sent and officials said they expected the blaze to be under control soon.
As many as 800 residents remained at evacuation centers, refugees from the two fires that began on Monday and kept growing as hot, dry winds whipped up flames.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens said on Tuesday the fires could last a week and declared a state of emergency for three Colorado counties, Larimer, Jefferson and Park, making them eligible for state funds.
Three firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported, officials said.
Fire crews were also battling other wildland fires in the western United States.
OTHER AREA ALSO ABLAZE IN WEST
In California's Napa County, more than 500 firefighters were in the field Wednesday battling a 3,000 acre blaze that authorities said was probably ignited by sparks from a minor car accident on a local road.
Lee Dibble, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry, said 40 homes had been evacuated near Lake Berryessa, about 55 miles northeast of San Francisco, and that hot, windy weather was making firefighting difficult.
"We have no structure losses at this time, but no estimate of containment," Dibble said.
So far this year, 44,872 wildland fires have been recorded, up from the 10-year average of 37,832. In this year's fires, 1.2 million acres have gone up in flames, up from the 10-year average of 719,781, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
A warmer and drier than normal winter from southern California to Florida has resulted in extreme fire conditions in much of the southern United States. Last month in the Los Alamos area in New Mexico, 50,000 acres went up in flames, destroying 200 homes
Colorado fires grow
weather.com, June 15, 2000
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More manpower has been called in to battle against two growing wildfires in Colorado. By late Wednesday, the number of firefighters grew from 900 to 1,200. The 630 Colorado fighters who tackled the blazes Tuesday were joined by crews from Oregon, California, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana and Utah.
Lower temperatures and lighter winds helped firefighters only slightly as they were not enough to save everything in the fire's path.
The number of homes burned rose by 15 during the day, bringing the total up to 44.
The fires, one 35 miles southwest of Denver, the other 12 miles west of Loveland, have forced the evacuation of 800 people.
Many homeowners had little notice and fled with what items they could gather in an hour or less.
"My smoke alarms were going off the smoke was so thick," said Chris Brock. "I was watering the house, grabbing more stuff, putting it in the truck."
The first blaze, labeled the High Meadow fire, has already charred 6,600 acres and destroyed 39 houses.
About 90 miles north of that fire, the Bobcat Fire, has burned nearly 5,000 acres since it began Monday. About 200 firefighters are on scene there.
Colorado's governor has already declared an emergency and The National Guard may be called in to help.
Fires and record heat in California
Intense heat isn't making things easy for firefighters dealing with several blazes in California.
More than 500 firefighters are trying to keep the flames away from homes 36 miles west of Sacramento. Authorities say they evacuated 40 homes in the Spanish Flats area west of Lake Berryessa Wednesday morning.
Rich Newburn, 56, said by the fire got as close as 15 feet from his house.
"This house has been our life and joy for seven years. To find something like this that threatens the house down to the foundation, it is scary. But all the roads are closed, so if we leave we can't come back," he said.
The blaze, which has already charred 2,800 acres, began yesterday when a vehicle lost a wheel and the sparks set roadside grass ablaze.
Intense heat hasn't helped fire fighting. The temperature in San Francisco hit 103 degrees this afternoon. That ties the record set on July 17th, 1988. San Francisco's temperatures have climbed over 100 degrees on just 11 days in the last 129 years.
Napa reported 106 degrees and Santa Rosa reported 105. It was 104 in San Rafael and Concord, 102 in Livermore and 101 in San Jose and Redwood City.
Homeowners are warned to avoid using chain saws, mowers and weed cutters around dry grass. Smokers are asked to be careful where they extinguish cigarettes, the forestry department said.
Progress in New Mexico
Fire officials in northern New Mexico hope erratic winds will subside, allowing crews to make progress on two fires that have burned at least 1,500 acres.
The La Cueva Fire, about 6 miles east-northeast of Mora, forced the evacuations of 33 families from mobile homes on Tuesday, said Peter D'Aquanni, a fire information officer.
"The wind was real calm, the all off a sudden they had gusts of 30 to 35 miles an hour," D'Aquanni said. That caused flames to shoot 200 feet into the air.
Although 500 acres have already burned, no buildings were damaged. Evacuees are expected to be allowed back later today.
The Pot Mountain Fire, 10 miles northwest of Questa, burned 1,000 acres west of the Rio Grande. The fire, reportedly sparked by lightning, was 30 percent contained Tuesday.
Finally, crews continue to monitor the Chance Fire and Cerro Grande Fires. Both are contained, but continue to burn within their fire lines. You may recall, the Cerro Grande Fire, destroyed more than 200 homes in Los Alamos before its containment June 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.