112 homes damaged or destroyed by Colo. wildfire

RED FEATHER LAKES, Colo. (AP) — At least 112 homes have been damaged or destroyed by an 84-square-mile wildfire in northern Colorado, and the number will go higher, authorities said Friday.

The Larimer County sheriff's department announced the new total as firefighters tried to contain a 200-acre spot fire north of the Cache La Poudre River, a critical line of defense against northward growth.

The main fire, which started June 9, has killed one person. Containment was listed at 20 percent, and incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said full containment could be two to four weeks away.

Nearly 200 personnel were battling the spot fire with the help of helicopters. Authorities sent evacuation notices to about 300 phone lines in the area and told other people to be prepared to leave.

"I have my wife all packed up and ready to go, and I'll right behind," said Bob Pichi, who had received the warning to be ready.

The spot fire erupted Thursday afternoon. Firefighters have extinguished other incursions north of the river, but the most recent one appeared to be more serious.

"There are potentially many houses at risk" north of the fire, Hahnenberg said.

Evacuations were also ordered Friday at a 17-square-mile fire near Pagosa Springs in southwest Colorado. About 10 people were told to leave the Poma and Weminuche ranches, fire information officer Suzanne Flory said. Firefighters were working to protect 28 homes and 43 outbuildings that were potentially threatened, she said. The lightning-caused fire was 30 percent contained.

Firefighters have been in a see-saw battle with the northern Colorado blaze, extending their lines along the eastern flank but losing ground on the west and north sides as flames burn through a dry forest thick with trees killed by bark beetles.

"Mother Nature is being tough on us," Hahnenberg said. "She's not going to win this thing. We're going to keep working."

Firefighters contended with 20- to 30-mph winds Friday, and fire information officer Brett Haberstick said some crews had to pull back for a while until the winds subsided.

Light rain fell north of the fire, but it wasn't clear whether any fell on the fire. Haberstick said firefighters were helped by higher humidity.

Humidity was below 10 percent when the fire started.

The National Weather Service reported lightning strikes over the fire area in the afternoon. There were no immediate reports of additional fires from the lightning.

Investigators said lightning triggered the fire, which is about 15 miles west of Fort Collins and 60 miles northwest of Denver.

Authorities had previously confirmed at least 48 homes were damaged or destroyed, and said the final number would include at least 118 houses, barns and other buildings.

One person was killed when a cabin burned. Relatives identified the victim as Linda Steadman, 62.

Evacuation calls have been made to about 3,000 phones since the fire started, but authorities cannot say how many homes are involved. Evacuation orders have been lifted for about 1,200 of those numbers.

Nearly 1,400 personnel, 103 fire engines, five heavy air tankers and 18 helicopters were available to fire managers Friday.

The fire is burning on land owned by private parties and the U.S. Forest Service. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service, is scheduled to meet with fire managers on Saturday.

A 30-acre blaze near Lake George in Park County was fully contained Friday night. It started Wednesday and was also caused by lightning.

Separately, a fire believed to have been caused by lightning destroyed a house four miles outside Rollinsville on Friday. Gilpin County sheriff's spokeswoman Cherokee Blake said no one was hurt.

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order Thursday banning open burning and the private use of fireworks throughout Colorado.

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