BOULDER, Colo. - Flames leapt from tree to tree and shot high into the air Saturday as a wildfire raged through more than 550 acres west of the city, prompting authorities to urge the evacuation of 200 mountain homes.
A plume of smoke hundreds of feet high was visible from Fort Collins, nearly 50 miles away.
Lt. Joe Gang, spokesman for the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, issued an urgent plea for more help, saying the 100 firefighters struggling to extinguish the blaze had been slowed by the area's rough terrain.
''We don't have the resources to fight this,'' Gang said.
The fire started Friday in Walker Ranch Park, an open space area in the Boulder Mountain Parks about 12 miles southwest of downtown Boulder. Authorities evacuated Pine Needle Notch subdivision near the park late Friday, then used reverse 911 calls to encourage residents of four other communities to evacuate as well.
The evacuations were not mandatory, and Gang said it appeared some people were staying in their homes or taking family members and some possessions out and then returning.
The blaze, the fifth major wildfire in Colorado this season, was devouring forests of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Colorado blue spruce and pinon, said Justin Dombrowski, spokesman for the interagency firefighting team.
''This is a serious fire,'' Dombrowski said. ''It's hard to get crews in there and get good work done because it's so steep and rocky.''
The cause of the blaze was under investigation, but Dombrowski said there was a ''strong possibility'' it was started by people, possibly as a campfire.
The fire was about a half mile from Bill Johnstone's home Saturday when Johnstone threw his climbing gear and checkbook into his car and climbed a nearby hillside with Denver's skyline in view. He cheered as slurry bombers fighting the fire roared just a few hundred feet over head.
''You have trade-offs,'' Johnstone said. ''There are bears, a mountain lion might eat your pet, and there are fires. I'm here because I love the mountains. If I'm not in the mountains I might as well be back in Pittsburgh.''
In California, firefighters on Saturday were taking control of a handful of fires in central and Southern California, including one blaze that had scorched 11,000 acres.
Two wildfires at the Vandenberg Air Force Base burned nearly 12,600 acres but firefighters contained the smaller 1,600-acre blaze and had the other nearly surrounded.
The 11,000-acre Harris fire, on the base between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, was about 80 percent contained, said Maj. John Cherry. Earlier in the week, it had forced the evacuation of the town of Casmalia.
Nearly 6.7 million acres have burned across the United States this year, among the nation's worst fire seasons in a half century. As of Saturday, the National Interagency Fire Center reported 23 fires burning in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming.
On the Net:
National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov/