Colorado assesses wildfire damage, braces for more

WRAY, Colo. (AP) — Residents on Colorado's eastern plains are trying to determine the extent of damage and the number of farm animals killed following a wildfire that charred more than 37 square miles.

Fire managers put two firefighting air tankers on standby at an airport outside Denver on Tuesday because forecasts are calling for increasingly dangerous conditions into next weekend.

Forests and grasslands are dry from the lower elevations of the Front Range eastward into Kansas, said Steve Segin, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Things are expected to worsen by the weekend, with high fire danger in eastern Colorado, southeast Wyoming and far western Nebraska and South Dakota.

On Sunday, fire conditions could become extreme in southern Colorado east of the Continental Divide, Segin said.

Three firefighters were injured while trying to escape from a stranded fire truck after the fire broke out last Sunday. Firefighter Jennifer Struckmeyer was in critical condition in a hospital's burn center on Tuesday, said Gene Haffner, spokesman for the North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley.

Her brother-in-law, Damon Struckmeyer, and a third firefighter, Darren Stewart, were treated and have been released.

Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day said two farmsteads were destroyed and residents are trying to round up cattle left wandering after the fire. An undetermined number of animals were killed, he said. He said the fire was likely caused by an electrical spark.

"We're trying to contact all of the residents of the burn area to try to determine the loss and the property damage. The biggest question now is about lost cattle. This is a tight-knit community and we have neighbors helping neighbors," Day said Tuesday.

The sheriff said he believes local communities can deal with the damage and he has not asked for state or federal assistance. The state brand inspector may be called in to help sort out the cattle owners, he said.

Day said that as many as 1,000 residents may have been forced from their homes and some are staying with friends and relatives.

A twin-engine aerial tanker capable of carrying up to 2,000 gallons of fire retardant was brought to Colorado from out of state on Tuesday.

A smaller single-engine tanker that was already in Colorado was also put on standby. It can carry up to 800 gallons.

Both are stationed at Rocky Mountain Airport in Jefferson County west of Denver.

It's unusual to have firefighting aircraft deployed this early in the season, said Jim Fletcher of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which coordinates firefighting In Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

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