Wildfires kill 3, forces evacuation of small Colorado town
By Ivan Moreno
ORDWAY, Colo. — Wildfires in warm, windy weather burned into a southeast Colorado town and on an Army post Tuesday, and a firefighting pilot and two other people died.
All 1,100 residents of the town of Ordway were told to leave because of a fire that burned across 7,100 acres, or 11 square miles, authorities said. By 9 p.m. Tuesday, firefighters had contained about 50 percent of the fire, which damaged at least 20 buildings, four within town town limits, fire spokesman Chris Sorensen said.
Crowley County sheriff’s deputy Bill Hamilton said late Tuesday he didn’t immediately have details on the two deaths.
The pilot died when the crop duster-type plane crashed along a highway just east of Fort Carson, said Mike Fergus of the Federal Aviation Administration. A fire there had burned about 9,000 acres, or 14 square miles.
The Army said some evacuations were forced by the fire near Fort Carson, about 60 miles south of Denver. A shelter was being set up at a special events center on base, Capt. Gregory Dorman said.
One state highway was closed. The cause of that fire hadn’t been determined.
Much of the state was under a National Weather Service red flag warning, signifying high fire danger. Gov. Bill Ritter declared a state of emergency, freeing up state resources to help fight the fire.
On the southeastern plains around Ordway, winds were gusting to 50 mph, humidity was low and temperatures reached into the 80s. Dry conditions on the plains and in some mountain valleys contrasted with deep snow at higher elevations.
Two state highways were closed to the town, 122 miles southeast of Denver.
At least three heavy air tankers, each capable of carrying up to 2,500 gallons of fire retardant were sent to Ordway, said Steve Segin, a spokesman with the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which helps coordinate response to fires.
"We have our fingers crossed that these winds will die down," said Polly White, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Emergency Management, adding that a storm expected to bring rain and snow Wednesday appeared to be moving into the area. "I can see the snow clouds coming over the mountains as we speak."
The Army said the Fort Carson wildfire had forced some evacuations, but the number of people affected wasn’t known.
Another wildfire near Carbondale, in the mountains about 120 miles west of Denver, blackened about 1,000 acres, damaged two homes and injured one resident. The nature of the injury wasn’t known.
Authorities had said they were preparing to evacuate a subdivision with an unknown number of homes. Red Cross spokeswoman B.J. Coyle said the agency had been told to prepare for up to 1,000 evacuees from the Carbondale fire.