Wildfire doubles in size in Nothern Colorado

Wildfire doubles in size in Nothern Colorado

POSTED: Monday, June 11, 2012 - 10:15am

UPDATED: Monday, June 11, 2012 - 10:23am

A sprawling wildfire in northern Colorado nearly doubled in size again Monday, spewing plumes of smoke and forcing the evacuation of thousands.

The fire grew to 36,930 acres, authorities said Monday. It had been estimated at 20,000 acres Sunday night.

The Red Cross, Humane Society and other aid groups mobilized to help evacuees while at least 400 firefighters, aided by air tankers and helicopters from as far away as Canada battled the fire about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Paramedics treated one firefighter for heat exhaustion on Sunday, according to Larimer County authorities. No other injuries had been reported, although one person was listed as missing. Authorities were also looking into a report that two hikers were missing near the fire.

Crews worked around the clock to evacuate residents, in some cases as "flames were licking at the units that were doing the evacuations," Sheriff Justin Smith said Sunday.

"We have planned and trained for fires in every neighborhood. But this fire hit every neighborhood at once," Smith told reporters.

Although the exact number of people under evacuation orders was not known Sunday, authorities had put out more than 2,600 calls notifying residents of the evacuation orders, authorities said.

At least 18 structures, some of them homes, had been destroyed, authorities said.

"We know this number will increase once crews get their surveys done," officials said in a posting on the Larimer County Emergency Information website.

Hundreds more homes are threatened, Smith said Sunday. Some structures likely won't survive, he said.

Fueled by strong, gusting winds, low humidity, high temperatures and dry brush, the fire was behaving erratically, Smith said. It was burning in multiple directions and, in some cases, returning to scorch areas it had already burned, he said.

A shortage of equipment and manpower was compounding the problem. Regional resources are already fighting other outbreaks, such as the massive Whitewater Baldy fire in New Mexico.

A Type 1 incident response team -- the most advanced and capable available for a wildfire -- began working the Colorado fire Sunday night, according to Larimer County authorities. Additional crews had been ordered, authorities said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered the Colorado Army National Guard into the fire fight Sunday, Guard spokesman Capt. Darin Overstreet said.

The National Guard's Black Hawk helicopters, equipped with water buckets, joined an increasing number of firefighting helicopters and air tankers being brought into the state to battle the fire. Air tankers from Canada arrived Sunday as well, officials said.

Poudre Fire Authority Chief Tom Demint told reporters Sunday night that additional aid is critical. Dozens of fire engines deployed can only do so much in corralling the charging blaze, he said.

"You do the math and you see what kind of (trouble) we're in," Demint said.

Authorities said they hoped that cooler temperatures and somewhat calmer winds forecast for Monday would help them make headway against the fire.

First measured at two acres early Saturday, the High Park fire has grown exponentially in the time since -- including more than doubling in size Sunday.

Investigators believe the fire was started by a lightning strike, though an investigation is continuing, county officials said.

-- CNN's Greg Morrison and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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