3 die fighting wildfires in Colorado; storm could aid firefighters

ORDWAY, Colo. " Firefighters resumed the battle today against three wildfires that blazed through nearly 20,000 acres in Colorado, killing three people and forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate.

Two of the dead were volunteer firefighters who were killed when a bridge damaged by flames collapsed under their fire truck, a state lawmaker said.

Wind gusted up to 50 mph along the Rocky Mountain Front Range and eastern plains on Tuesday, fanning flames that quickly spread across 8,900 acres " or 14 square miles " of grassland near Ordway. All 1,200 residents of the town were told to leave, and they had not been allowed back in by Wednesday.

This morning, wind was blowing at less than 10 mph at Pueblo, about 50 miles west of Ordway, the National Weather Service said. Firefighters hoped rain and snow expected later in the day would help them corral the blaze.

The Ordway fire was 80 percent contained by Wednesday morning but had damaged at least 24 buildings, eight within town limits, fire information officer Katherine Sanguinetti said.

Former state Rep. Mark Cloer of Sugar City, near Ordway, told lawmakers that ranchers would need emergency feed for cattle because the fire destroyed feedlots.

A firefighting plane crashed near Fort Carson, killing the pilot, whose name was not released.

The pilot was battling a blaze there that charred 9,600 acres " about 15 square miles " and forced the evacuation of people living near the Army base.

Authorities could not say how many people had been evacuated at the Fort Carson fire, but none had been allowed back into their homes by Wednesday morning.

About 300 firefighters were at the fire but no containment lines had been established, El Paso County sheriff's Sgt. Jeanette Whitney said.

A team from the coordinating center was preparing to take control of the firefighting effort later Wednesday, an indication of how serious the situation was.

Two shelters were set up at the post and a third at a nearby community college to house evacuees. The cause of the fire at the base outside Colorado Springs, about 60 miles south of Denver, hadn't been determined.

A third fire, near Carbondale in the western Colorado mountains, damaged at least two homes and left a fisherman with minor injuries.

Rain was possible in parts of the area during the afternoon and there was a chance of up to a foot of snow in Colorado's eastern mountains beginning Wednesday evening and lasting into Thursday morning, the weather service said.

The wildfire near Carbondale, in the mountains about 120 miles west of Denver, blackened about 1,000 acres. It was about 25 percent contained Wednesday.


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