Massive, fast-moving Colo. wildfire now a killer

(CBS News) FORT COLLINS, Colo. - The massive wildfire in northern Colorado that was probably sparked by lightning on Saturday was still raging Tuesday.

The fast-moving blaze was burning through about half-a-mile of forest per hour and threatening hundreds of homes. It burned dozens of structures Monday.

It's being blamed for one death.

The High Park fire had scorched more than 41,000 acres, and was still zero percent contained Tuesday morning. Winds were calm, but forecasters said they could climb dangerously high Tuesday afternoon.

Experts are calling this a "dirty" fire, meaning the flames skip over areas, then circle back and burn what they missed the first time.

Longtime resident Jim Key believes his home was destroyed.

He says his home was "his dream," adding, "It's got my sawmill, living off the land. I mean, this is my dream to live here. ... I think it went yesterday, so it's real sad."

Western wildfires straining resources

Four hundred firefighters have been battling the blaze from the air and on the ground; that number will soon swell to 600.

While the steep, mountainous terrain appears green, a dry winter and spring have left the moisture level in the trees down to 60 percent. At this time of year, it's usually at 90 percent. The result: Flames are leaping easily from treetop to treetop.

"So, even though that fuel looks green, normally it wouldn't burn at this time of year," says Fire Management Officer Bill Hahnenberg. "It's burning very well, and that's why we're getting this aggressive and active fire behavior that we are."

At least 118 structures have burned. Cheryl Pratt and her daughter are hoping their home will survive.

"If our house is there, then we have space for neighbors to pull in a camper to close to their house or whatever they need," says Cheryl Pratt, an evacuee.

"So far, the focus has been on life, safety, and structure protection," says Nick Christensen, of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. "A different team, a recovery team, will go in and start determining what the damage was, where these homes exactly are, who they're owned by, and work directly with those residents."

There's been one fatality, 62-year-old Linda Steadman, described as a wife, mother and grandmother. A sheriff's deputy and a firefighter got as close as her gate to try to rescue her when they were literally forced back by the flames.

To see Barry Petersen's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Barry Petersen

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