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Colorado burns as thousands evacuated.

Byline: Judith Crosson

The biggest fire in Colorado's history raged through parts of four counties south of Denver yesterday, prompting the evacuation of thousands more residents amid fears that winds could further whip up the blaze. The Hayman fire, about 55 miles southwest of Denver, grew during the day to 85,000 acres plus from 77,000 acres earlier in the day.

'It's very hot and really moving,' said Pam DeVore, a US Forest Service spokeswoman.

Flames shot up in the air from treetops and embers flew as bigwhite plumes of smoke hung over a scenic area of Pike National Forest that normally is teeming with visitors camping and sightseeing.

'We're at the mercy of the winds,' Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone said.

The blaze, which has marked an early start to the US summer fire season, was the largest in the state's history, Colorado Governor Bill Owens said.

So far this year, nearly 1.4 million acres have burned across the United States, up from 1.2 million acres this time in 2000 - one of the worst years in recent memory, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Ms DeVore said residents of ten subdivisions in Teller County had been told to evacuate. Residents in 15 subdivisions or small towns in neighboring Jefferson and Douglas counties also have been packing up photographs, business papers and other valuables and getting on the road before the flames get too close. Horse trucks were spotted on the road, ready to move out carrying the animals.

The fire was one of at least eight burning across Colorado, including a 10,600 acre blaze that destroyed 28 homes near Glenwood Springs, about 150 miles west of Denver.

The blaze southwest of Denver was nowhere close to being contained, and officials said it was too dangerous to put firefighters on its northern fringes - between the flames and the homes in Douglas County.

'There is such a tremendous amount of heat that you can't put firefighters on the ground in front of it,' fire information officer Tony Diffenbaugh said.

As the fire steadily moved northeast, it also grew on its eastern side, US Forest Service spokeswoman Barb Masinton said.The fire has already destroyed 21 homes and threatened another 2,500.

Chris and Lori Sutton woke up at dawn to the smell of smoke drifting through an open bedroom window. Chris Sutton said the smoke was so thick it was 'like fog,' though it blew away a few hours later.

Officials said they were most worried about the northeast head of the fire, which was burning through dry, mountainous forest land toward another area of small towns. The Hayman blaze was one of six major fires burning in the state.

As Colorado struggled to come to grips with the ferocity of the blaze - which started on Saturday with sparks from what authorities said was an illegal campfire - President George Bush offered federal assistance in a call yesterday to Owens, the White House said.

'The federal government is making the resources available to help. The president said if there's anything you need let us know,' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Joe Allbaugh, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is in Colorado and Interior Secretary Gale Norton was on the way, Mr Fleischer added.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 13, 2002
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