Meteor reports briefly ground aerial assault on Colorado wildfire

In this photo taken on June 18, 2012, and made available by the Colorado National Guard, a helicopter drops a load of water above the High Park wildfire, about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/Colorado National Guard , Jess Geffre)

(AP) BELLVUE, COLORADO - Authorities grounded firefighting aircraft battling an out-of-control blaze scorching central Colorado on Wednesday, reacting with caution to witness reports of meteor sightings.

The temporary move came amid several reported sky sightings near the fire burning 1,100 acres, or nearly 2 square miles, west of Colorado Springs.

Chaffee County Sheriff W. Peter Palmer said his office received multiple reports, including one person who thought a meteorite might have landed in a wooded area north of Buena Vista. Palmer said officials could not confirm that report.


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Meanwhile, the crew of a heavy air tanker spotted something while making a slurry run on the blaze, said Steve Segin, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

"They weren't sure what it was," Segin said, confirming the report of a possible meteor shower.

"They landed as they normally do to reload, and for safety reasons they grounded themselves until they could figure out what it was they saw," he said.

The Colorado sightings corresponded with reports of a possible meteor filed by the crews of two commercial aircraft over Liberal, Kan., said meteorologist Scott Entrekin of the National Weather Service in Boulder.

Other sky sightings were reported in Raton, N.M., Entrekin said.

Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said he had no such reports. He also said there were no reported disruptions to commercial airline traffic.

Fire officials ordered four single-engine aircraft to stay on the ground as a precaution. Two heavy air tankers were also affected. The planes soon resumed their attack on the fire, Entrekin said.

The groundings came as firefighters were taking advantage of a break in the heat to ramp up their attack against wildfire burning on more than 100 square miles in the northern part of the state.

"Mother Nature has allowed us this window, and we have responded very aggressively ," said Brett Haberstick, a spokesman for fire managers.

After three straight days of gusty winds and temperatures in the 90s, temperatures Wednesday were about 20 degrees cooler.

"We've been patient through those red flag conditions. Today we're going to be aggressive," said Bill Hahnenberg, who is leading the fight against the 65,738-acre fire west of Fort Collins.

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