Large wildfire in N. Colorado prompts evacuations

Smoke is visible from Tie Siding, Wyo., as a wildfire burns northwest of Fort Collins, Colo., on Saturday, June 9, 2012. The cause of the fire is not yet known. AP Photo/Laramie Daily Boomerang, Andy Carpenean

(AP) FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Crews are battling a fast-moving wildfire in northern Colorado that has scorched between 2,000 and 3,000 acres and prompted several dozen evacuation orders.

Larimer County Sheriff's Office spokesman John Schulz said the fire was reported just before 6 a.m. Saturday in the mountainous Paradise Park area about 25 miles northwest of Fort Collins. He said at least 46 structures and likely many more have been evacuated, and an evacuation center has been set up at Cache La Poudre Middle School in Laporte.

Several structures are in the area, but no damage or injuries have been reported. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Aerial footage from Denver-based KMGH-TV showed flames coming dangerously close to what appeared to be several outbuildings and at least one home in the area, as well as consuming trees and sending a large plume of smoke into the air.

"Right now we're just trying to get these evacuations done and get people safe," Schulz told the station, adding that "given the extreme heat in the area, it makes it a difficult time for (the firefighters)." Temperatures near Fort Collins reached the mid-80s Saturday afternoon with a humidity level of between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Two heavy air tankers, a single-engine air tanker and three helicopters are on the scene to help fight the blaze, which appears to be burning on private and U.S. Forest Service land and is being fueled by sustained winds of between 20 and 25 mph.

"It was just good conditions to grow," National Weather Service meteorologist Chad Gimmestad told The Associated Press. "The conditions today were really favorable for it to take off."

He said firefighters should benefit from cooler weather this evening, but the cold front also is expected to bring wind gusts as high as 40 mph.

"It's a trade off," he said. "The biggest thing might be that it will be pushing (the fire) in a different direction and the way this is playing out, it might be in the direction of homes."

Also Saturday, KMGH reported a grass fire destroyed at least four outbuildings near Interstate 25 and Colorado 7 in Erie. Images from the station's helicopter showed at least one car engulfed in flames.

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