New wildfire forces Mesa Verde to close again

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. - A wildfire at the nation's largest archaeological preserve swelled to 3,500 acres Saturday and was burning on a mesa near several ancient cliff dwellings.

Because of the cliff dewellings' locations and lack of vegetation around them, they aren't in danger from the flames, said Rob Morrison of the Durango interagency dispatch center.

''They're down in a canyon and there is no way for the fire to get in there,'' he said. ''It's all rock and sand.''

Just 12 hours after Mesa Verde National Park reopened to tourists Friday after being closed for two weeks because of another wildfire, it was closed again indefinitely.

The new fire started Wednesday on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, crossed into the southwestern corner of the park Friday and doubled in size inside the park overnight.

''We threw everything we could at it,'' Morrison said. ''Every helicopter and every tanker.''

About 200 firefighters battled the blaze, concentrating on protecting employee housing, a research center, museum and park headquarters. A statement said several park ''day use structures'' may have burned overnight.

The fire is expected to become a high-priority fire as dozens of wildfires burn across the country, Morrison said.

None of the park's ancient Indian dwellings was damaged by the earlier fire, but tourist traffic dwindled and local businesses suffered. More than a third of the 52,000-acre park burned during the 10-day blaze.

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On the Net:

Mesa Verde National Park: http://www.nps.gov/meve

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov

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