Growing fires in US West put damper on holiday festivities

Thursday, July 5, 2018

DENVER (AP) — Large wildfires grew across the American West on Wednesday, keeping thousands of people out of their homes for the July 4 holiday and forcing some strict bans on fireworks to prevent new fires from igniting in the hot, dry region.

The National Interagency Fire Center on Wednesday reported more than 60 large, active blazes across the country, most in the drought-stricken West where holiday festivities could lead to increased fire danger.

The third-largest fire in recorded Colorado history kept expanding, chewing through 147 square miles near Fort Garland, about 205 miles (330 kilometers) southwest of Denver.

The Spring Fire has destroyed more than 100 homes, and over 2,000 have been evacuated. Officials said preventing the flames from spreading toward the small mountain town of Cuchara is a priority.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters were working to gain control of the fire in unpredictable winds, but it was only slightly contained since sparking June 27.

“We’re holding our own,” Shane Greer, an incident commander with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team told residents. “There’s some good firefighting going on out there.”

In Eagle County, authorities urged residents in a mobile home park to evacuate Wednesday night after the Lake Christine quickly grew in size due to erratic winds.

Elsewhere, on the holiday, fireworks displays were scheduled to go on in Denver and other large cities, but several mountain communities called off their festivities to avoid any risk of flames.

In the southwestern mountain town of Silverton, a fireworks display was canceled in favor of live music and a parade. Aspen officials planned a fire-proof display using drone lights in place of fireworks.

Parts of Colorado and other Western states have been grappling with severe drought that’s made wildfires explosive so far this season.

Utah authorities ordered more residents to evacuate as a blaze grew to at least 62 square miles near a popular fishing reservoir amid high wind gusts, steep terrain and dry conditions.

It wasn’t clear how many more people were told to flee, but several hundred homes and cabins have been evacuated and the orders were extended to a 20-mile area dotted with trees and cabins.

The growing fire forced authorities to shut down hightension power lines in the area Wednesday evening.

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