Late season wildfires rage across drought-stricken Colorado

Keith Coffman
·1-min read
FILE PHOTO: Cameron Peak Fire burns outside Estes Park
FILE PHOTO: Cameron Peak Fire burns outside Estes Park

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado firefighters were struggling on Monday to get ahead of the state's largest wildfire on record, which grew markedly over the last few days, and smoke drifted over the population corridor of the drought-stricken state.

New fires continue to erupt, including an 8,800-acre blaze that ignited in the mountains above Boulder that incinerated at least 26 homes, according to the sheriff’s office.

The latest figures from the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that the entire state of Colorado was at some level of drought, and officials said this was contributing to the outbreak of wildfires.

"It's extremely late; it should be snowing by now," said Larry Helmerick, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, a federal interagency wildfire tasked with dispatching resources across the region.

There have have been few lightning strikes in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, so it is believed most of the wildfires are human caused, Helmerick said. Tinder-dry fuels and high winds are causing flames to spread rapidly.

"It's so dry that it's hard to get a handle on them," he said.

Of the 12,000 wildland firefighters in the United States, more than 3,000 are battling blazes in Colorado and Wyoming, Helmerick said.

The largest blaze in Colorado, the Cameron Peak Fire, has scorched 203,634 acres in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests since it ignited in mid-August and is 62 percent contained, according to InciWeb, a wildfire tracking site.

Wildfire managers estimate that more than 50 structures have been destroyed in the Cameron Peak blaze, another 50,000 are threatened and almost 13,000 people have been evacuated.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Osterman)