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Most CO evacuees go home

Most residents who had been evacuated near Fort Collins, Colo., were allowed to return home Sunday.

BY P.J. HELLER | FORT COLLINS, Colo. | April 4, 2004

Residents who evacuated near Fort Collins, Colo., were allowed to return home Sunday.

Scores of people had been evacuated when an 8,000-acre blaze threatened more than 23 homes.

By Saturday morning one home had burned but firefighters were encouraged that wind was pushing fire away from more populated areas, and that cooler weather on the horizon would help curb the blaze.

The fire was 30 percent contained Saturday morning.

Some 140 homes were evacuated about 70 miles northwest of Denver, and an additional 108 homes were placed on alert.

Gov. Bill Owens declared a state of emergency.

Residents in the Bonner Peak subdivision were evacuated as the “Picnic Rock” blaze, which began Tuesday when a residential yard fire got out of control, was fanned by wind gusts during the night of up to 40 mph. Temperatures this week were expected to be in the mid-70s.

The American Red Cross set up a day shelter at LaPorte Presbyterian Church in LaPorte. An overnight shelter was set up at Cache la Poudre Elementary School. The Salvation Army of Fort Collins dispatched an emergency canteen to provide meals for firefighters, law enforcement personnel and evacuees.

This early start ot the fire season could be a harbinger of things to come. The fire was one of three blazes burning in the western U.S. A 2,700-acre wildfire was reported in central Arizona with another 3,000 acres ablaze southwest of Phoenix. Neither was threatening homes or communities.

Fire danger was reported high in Arizona, Georgia and Kentucky. The infernos could be an ominous sign of the coming fire season.

The National Interagency Fire Center warned that long-term drought, damaged vegetation and less than normal winter precipitation could result in greater fire danger for some parts of the nation.

The interior West is expected to be hardest hit, according to the report from the Boise, Idaho-based agency.

“Long-term drought persists over much of the interior West,” it said. “Drought-stressed and/or insect damaged vegetation continues to increase in the West leading to greater potential for large, destructive wildfires at mid- to high elevations.”

It said the southwest was the driest region. “The fire season is expected to start early and has the potential to be comparable to 2002,” it said, referring to the devastating fire season two years ago in which approximately 7 million acres burned across the U.S.

About 4.21 million acres burn in an average year.

While fire danger was expected to be high in the West and Southwest through August, the agency predicted eastern states, the South and Alaska could experience a normal to below normal fire season.

Among areas of concern in those regions were west Texas, the Oklahoma Panhandle and North Carolina.

“Overall, the 2004 fire season is expected to be near normal in terms of the expected number of fires and acres burned,” the agency said. “However, much of the interior West is expected to experience above normal fire potential this season.”

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