Dangerous Colo. wildfire burns, threatens homes

Smoke is visible from Tie Siding, Wyo., as wildfire burns northwest of Fort Collins, Colo.
Smoke is visible from Tie Siding, Wyo., as wildfire burns northwest of Fort Collins, Colo.
AP Photo/Laramie Daily Boomerang, Andy Carpenean

(CBS News) BELLVUE, Colo. - Firefighters in Colorado are battling a huge, wind-driven wildfire in rugged canyons, 15 miles northwest of Fort Collins.

The smoke is so thick, it's actually obscuring the Rocky Mountains.

The High Park fire has been burning since early Saturday morning, and was still spreading rapidly, covering more than 26,000 acres. Some 2,600 evacuation notices have been sent out.

Officials say they don't think the fire was started by humans. A lightning strike is the more likely cause, they say.

The blaze has proven a tough adversary for firefighters.

But it's been even more frightening for evacuees on the ground.

Rosemary Silano says she looked out her window and saw flames 300 feet high "and I had to drive past it, and I just kept thinking, 'Just keep driving, just keep driving."'

Evacuee Donna Kramer says her family's first priorities were their "two dogs and our two cats. And each other."

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One couple picked the wrong day to get married. As flames approached the Sky Corral Ranch in Bellvue, the bride and groom decided to shorten their ceremony and flee, along with their wedding guests.

"They quickly said their 'I do's,' and right after that, they had to leave," says Michah Green

Many residents had to evacuate so quickly they left their pets and livestock behind in special shelters.

Officials say the dry conditions might force the state to ban fireworks this Fourth of July.

"The conditions this summer give every indication we're going to be at risk all summer long," observed Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith says, "The unfortunate part is we've got dozens of engines up there, but we've got hundreds of homes. ... And as you get into some of those areas, we can't afford to get firefighters trapped in some of those far back areas."

Helicopters and air tankers are fighting the fire from above, while hundreds of firefighters are on the ground.

Smith says the fire is creating its own weather, pushing and pulling the winds in every direction. "We have no containment goals at this time. (We're) merely (trying to) get people out of the way."

The thick, smoke-clogging smoke was spreading 100 miles north into Wyoming and some 200 miles east into Nebraska.

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