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Weather Warning In Colorado Firefights

With Western Colorado under a "red flag" weather warning Thursday, firefighters said heat and heavy winds have hurt their efforts to contain three blazes burning bone-dry trees and brush.

Nearly 15,000 acres have been scorched by the fires that started earlier this week in remote parts of the Western Slope, and blazes have also burned thousands of acres in southwestern Wyoming and Utah.

“The vegetation is dryer right now than it's been on record,” said Justin Dombrowski, a spokesman for a team fighting a 4,100-acre fire near Gateway, about 35 miles southwest of Grand Junction.

“The hot, dry, windy weather and the rough terrain are making it pretty difficult to try to contain this fire,” Dombrowski said. “Mother Nature is throwing us just about everything she's got.”

The largest of the Colorado fires was burning on about 9,500 acres in and around the Dinosaur National Monument near the Green River, about five miles from the Utah border and 110 miles north of Grand Junction.

That fire was 30 percent contained by late Wednesday. Full containment was not expected until Sunday at the earliest, said Rocky Mountain Incident Management team spokesman Dennis Seville.

The fire near Gateway was 20 percent contained, Dombrowski said, but he said firefighters could suffer setbacks if weather forecasts proved accurate.

A third fire was burning on 1,200 acres near Rangely, about 55 miles northwest of Grand Junction. Officials said it was 50 percent contained Thursday, with full containment expected at night.

The fires were burning mostly on public land, but a few families in the Rangely area were evacuated Wednesday in case the fire reached nearby above-ground oil pipes and a pump station.

A threatened vacation cabin in the Rangely area was being protected by slurry drops Wednesday, Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team spokesman Dennis Seville said.

Six structures were threatened by the fire near Gateway, Dombrowski said, but most of them were historic mine buildings. It appeared two were vacation homes, he said.

Winds gusting up to 40 mph caused the fires to spread Wednesday. Fire crews at the largest blaze had to be pulled off the north side of the fire after it made strong runs down steep terrain.

Where Are The Fires?
Check out the National Interagency Fire Center's wildfire tracking map.
Communication problems also slowed the fight. Some crews fighting the Dinosaur fire were removed after their radios failed in the hilly terrain. Cell phones do not work in the area and new radio repeaters were expected to be in place by Thursday to solve the problem, Seville said.

“The terrain out there is extremely steep and canyon-like. We're actually having to ferry some of the crew to their destination by helicopter,” according to Lynn Barclay, a spokeswoman at the Craig Interagency Fire Center.

Meanwhile the Canyon of Lodore campground, across the Green River from the Dinosaur fire, has reopened, Seville said.

More difficult weather was predicted for the area of Colorado that borders Wyoming and Utah.

“The way the weather's looking, it doesn't look like we'll be getting any real relief anytime soon,” Dombrowski said.

The Colorado wildfires came less than a month after two blazes burned about 21,000 acres on the more densely populated eastern side of the Continental Divide, destroying dozens of homes and other structures.

The 2000 fire season is shaping up to be the worst in at least four years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.