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Extreme Behavior Fires Colorado*

'Extreme behavior' pushes Colorado blazes

June 19, 2002 Posted: 9:58 PM EDT (0158 GMT)

LAKEWOOD, Colorado (CNN) -- Strong wind, heat and low humidity worked against crews battling wildfires Wednesday as President Bush declared the state a major disaster area.

The Hayman fire has burned 136,000 acres south of Denver and the Missionary Ridge fire has scorched more than 44,000 acres near Durango in the southwest corner of the state, fire officials said.

"Last night we had some extreme fire behavior on two major fires, Hayman fire south and the Missionary Ridge fire," said Bobbie Mixon, a Rocky Mountain Fire Coordination spokesman. "The fire behavior was propelled by high temperatures, low humidity and winds upward of 30 mph."

The more than 2,200 firefighters battling the Hayman fire were forced to relinquish some of Tuesday's hard-fought gains. The fire was only 40 percent contained Wednesday, down 7 percentage points from the day before.

"About a dozen subdivisions" have been evacuated in the Hayman fire and 2,500 people have been evacuated from the Missionary Ridge area, officials reported.

It was not immediately known whether more residences were lost in the past 24 hours because wind conditions were delaying reconnaissance flights, they said.

The 850 firefighters on the Missionary Ridge blaze managed to hang onto the same amount of containment as Tuesday -- about 25 percent -- in part because "not all of the fire lines on Missionary Ridge collapsed yesterday," Mixon said.

But, he added, the fire flexed its muscles with "some torching, spotting, crown fires, and runs along the southwest, eastern, and northern sides."

The disaster declaration Bush issued Wednesday will allow federal aid to people affected by the wildfires, the Federal Emergency Management agency said.

The declaration covers damage to private property from wildfires that began April 23. FEMA already has approved money to help state authorities pay to battle 11 wildfires and released $20 million to state officials last week, a statement from the agency said Wednesday.

More command centers were set up around the Hayman fire Wednesday.

"There is a third command post that is being established on the eastern side of the Hayman fire that will make three Type 1 teams [in place], who are the most experienced command teams and firefighters," Mixon said.

The new post is between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs.

The Hayman fire once threatened Denver's southern suburbs, but that threat has dissipated. The main problem for the city now is smoke, Mixon said. There have been no serious injuries, he said.

A U.S. Forest Service employee is accused of intentionally setting the Hayman fire. Terry Barton, 38, is in the Jefferson County Detention Center pending a bond hearing Thursday. (Full story)

Fire officials from the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, have been dealing with a total of eight major fires -- seven in Colorado and one in Wyoming.

In Colorado, in addition to the Hayman and Missionary Ridge fires, there are two fires around Trinidad, two in the Miracle fire complex near Grand Junction, and the Coal Seam fire near Glenwood Springs. The Wyoming blaze is near Wheatland.

Significant progress with containments of around 90 percent has been made on the Trinidad, Miracle and Coal Seam fires. Because of the progress, "we're able to shift resources as we need them," Mixon said.

Larry Helmerick, a fire information officer for the Rocky Mountain Fire Coordination team, said Wednesday the fires, including the one in Wyoming, have charred 228,883 acres.

"We're less than a week into the fire season and we're almost at the total for the entire 2001 fire season in Colorado of 280,000 acres," he said.

(Original Len: 4045 Condensed Len: 4396)

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