Colo. fires force town’s 300 residents to evacuate
March 19, 2012
WRAY, Colo. (AP) — A wind-fueled wildfire on the plains of northeastern Colorado destroyed at least two homes and forced all 300 residents of a rural town to evacuate Sunday, authorities said.
More than a dozen area fire departments were working to extinguish the blaze, which started at about 1:15 p.m. south of Yuma before spreading toward Eckley, prompting evacuation orders for the town. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the blaze.
Mike McCaleb, emergency manager in neighboring Washington County, estimated the fire was about 10 miles long and about a mile and a half wide. It created a large wall of smoke and forced authorities to close a section of U.S. Highway 34 east of Yuma.
“There have been two confirmed homes lost and multiple homes and buildings threatened,” McCaleb said in a release. “At this time the conditions are very limited visibility due to smoke and blowing dirt so it is not known if there are any other structures destroyed or how many might still be threatened.”
He added firefighters were having a “tough time getting around” and stopping the fire because of the low visibility and gusty winds.
Authorities used an automated phone system to notify area residents to leave. The evacuation area was roughly 16 miles by 14 miles and included the town of Eckley, McCaleb said. Evacuation centers were set up in the nearby towns of Wray and Yuma.
Meanwhile, Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day told KUSA-TV in Denver (http://on9news.tv/FPoIXr ) that one firefighter suffered minor burns to the face while battling the fire and was being treated at a nearby hospital. A second firefighter was being treated for smoke inhalation, while a third suffered minor burns to the arms.
“These are the only injuries we know of right now, and we hope it stays that way,” Day said. “The wind has just been really volatile in terms of changing quickly on us.”
Chris Foltz, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Goodland, Kan., said the fire was fueled by sustained winds of 30 to 35 mph, and a gust of 62 mph was measured near Yuma at about 4:35 p.m. He said the small town of Kirk just south of the fire experienced a wind gust of 68 mph soon after the blaze started.
“The winds are going to stay up,” he said. “Probably late, late tonight they’re going to settle down.”