Colo. wildfire forces 8,500 to evacuate

March 25, 2011 at 9:10 AM
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DENVER, March 25 (UPI) -- A wildfire whipped by strong winds forced the evacuation of more than 8,500 people in Colorado's Douglas County, south of Denver, authorities said.

It was one of three wildfires that burned more than 11,000 acres, The Denver Post reported Friday.

Most residents were allowed back in their homes by 6 p.m. Thursday, but were warned they might have just 10 minutes to leave if fire conditions worsened.

"We've had erratic winds all afternoon, so the evacuation was necessary to ensure the public safety," said Anthony Valdez, deputy fire marshal for South Metro Fire Rescue.

Officials used a reverse 911 call to alert residents of the danger. Near-drought conditions contributed to the spread of the fire.

"Those winds scare me to death," area resident James Roach said. "I've thought for a month if somebody dropped a match you'd lose 1,000 acres in no time."

Farther south of Denver, a 5,000-acre grass fire forced the evacuation of about 600 employees of the Pueblo Chemical Depot. That fire was about 95 percent contained by late Thursday.

A fire in Lincoln County, about 80 miles east of Colorado Springs, burned more than 5,000 acres Thursday.

Fire officials said earlier this week a dry spring would result in the worst fire season for Colorado since 2002, when nearly 250,000 acres burned.

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