Commander at 2nd Colorado wildfire says next 36 hours pivotal in making headway against blaze

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Colorado fire commander says next 36 hours pivotal

LOVELAND, Colo. — Firefighters were trying to gain ground Tuesday on a wildfire in the northern Colorado foothills ahead of strong winds expected to move in, potentially spreading the flames.

The fire, the second major blaze to break out on the Front Range in a week, has burned nearly 1,000 acres, or about 1½ square miles, of tinder-dry grass and trees in steep terrain just west of Loveland.

The fire, which has destroyed two homes, was 20 percent contained.

Incident team manager Jim Thomas said the fire didn’t move much Monday and that the next 36 hours are pivotal for crews to make headway. Thomas said the fire wasn’t moving toward populated areas.

“We’re going to go out and pound on it,” said Thomas, who also led the fight against a wildfire near Boulder that destroyed at least 166 homes.

More than 400 firefighters have been assigned to fight the fire near Loveland, which prompted the evacuation of an unknown number of homes within a four-mile radius.

Thomas said gusts of up to 20 mph were possible Tuesday and winds of up to 28 mph were expected Wednesday.

Sheriff’s investigators believe the fire was started Sunday by two people burning leaves and tree branches at a home. They plan to turn their findings over to prosecutors later Tuesday to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

The fire near Boulder — which scorched at least 10 square miles and has cost $9.6 million to fight — has been fully contained but firefighters were still working to put out hot spots within the perimeter Tuesday.

Boulder County investigators also believe that fire was human-caused. They say a fire started by a volunteer firefighter in a fire pit was likely reignited by strong winds Sept. 6, even though the firefighter doused it with water and stirred the ashes to put it out.

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