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Fire devours homes in Colorado

BY SUSAN KIM | CONIFER, CO | June 14, 2000

CONIFER, CO (June 14, 2000) -- Nearly 30 families have

lost their homes and some 800 have been evacuated as

firefighters struggled to gain control of two wildfires

on Wednesday.

The two fires have burned nearly 10,000 acres. The most

recent fire, which began near Bailey and then destroyed

homes in Conifer, has burned 4,500 acres in the

foothills 35 miles southwest of Denver. Some 500 people

have fled that fire, which official surmise was caused

by lightning. No injuries have been reported among

residents, although three firefighters have suffered

minor burns. Conditions were still highly dangerous

there on Wednesday.

Ninety miles away, another 5,000-acre blaze outside

Rocky Mountain National Park has burned at least five

structures and is threatening 250 homes nestled in

forests in area canyons. More than 400 people fled their

homes Tuesday night. Dry conditions and high winds are

causing trees to quickly ignite. A force of more than

800 firefighters continued to battle both blazes on

Wednesday, and officials couldn't predict when fire

crews would regain control.

The Salvation Army is providing relief for

displaced people as well as support services. Volunteer

teams served more than 450 meals on Tuesday night to

volunteer firefighters and the sheriff's departments on

the scene. "We have two units in each fire area," said

Captain Doug Tollured.

In Conifer, the Salvation Army is working in partnership

with the Mountain Resource Center. "We're compiling a

list of folks willing to help people," said Alana

Spears, volunteer coordinator. "We don't have hotels and

motels - this is a mountain community. So we're seeing

what resources are available in terms of housing, food,

pet care, child care, and things like that."

Most displaced people are staying at American Red Cross

shelters. The Mountain Resource Center is also working

with local churches, Spears added.

Salvation Army Captain Jim Nyberg, who was at the center

on Wednesday offering assistance, said he anticipated

that initial post-fire cleanup would take at least two

weeks. "It's good that the Mountain Resource Center is

set up to accept donations because a lot of people have

already been donating locally," he said.

The Colorado Springs chapter of Catholic Charities has

contacted a local parish in Bailey, said Rochelle

Finzel, associate director of advocacy and public

policy. "We're prepared to offer financial assistance or

counseling as the situation plays out," she said. "I do

believe the church is okay."

Other faith-based organizations, such as the American

Baptist Church, have also contacted their regional

offices and local congregations to see what resources

are needed to respond.

The fire near Conifer continues to devour acres of pine

trees, is being fueled by gusty winds. Sweltering

temperatures are adding to the danger and discomfort.

Residents are anxiously waiting for updates to lists of

burned homes.

An unforeseen shortage of fire retardant has hampered

fire fighting efforts. The U.S. Forest Service's

regional supply of fire retardant was exhausted on

Tuesday, forcing airplane tanks to be filled with less

effective water.

Gov. Bill Owens declared an emergency, making three

counties eligible for state money. He also put the

National Guard on alert. The Federal Emergency

Management Agency has announced plans to provide

additional money.

Meanwhile in New Mexico, where the huge Los Alamos

wildfire recently scorched thousands of acres, winds are

fanning two wildfires are burning northeast of Santa Fe.

A fire near Questa grew to 1,000 acres Tuesday in the

Rio Grande Gorge, while a 300-acre fire near Mora forced

33 families from their homes.

Some 44,300 fires covering more than 1.2 million acres

have been recorded in the U.S. so far this year, with

the drought conditions getting worse in the West and


In Georgia, almost 5,000 acres burned in the most recent

fire, according to Lisa Janak, public information

officer for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Urban and rural residents alike are being affected by

the drought. In Atlanta, the state has imposed tough

water restrictions for the first time in 12 years.

Alabama state officials are calling out the National

Guard to dispense drinking water in towns where wells

are in danger of running dry.

Across the Southeast, crops are withering, and farmers

are sending cattle to slaughter because there is nothing

for them to eat. In South Carolina, farmers have stopped

planting cotton and soybeans. Peanut farmers in Georgia

report they are losing their corn and peanut crops as


Wildfires are also burning in Michigan, where 40 homes

in the northern part of the state were evacuated after a

controlled burn on land spread to 400 acres.

New large fires were also reported in California on

Wednesday. Another fire in southern Nevada has scorched

more than 2,000 acres.

Some scientists believe the drought a result of La Nina,

the cooling phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean that has

produced warmer winters and drier-than-normal conditions

in the Southeast.

Forecasters predict that above-normal temperatures will

continue in the South and the Midwest, and that severe

drought conditions will persist in much of the South.

Forecasters also predict the Midwest also will suffer,

particularly Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa, and

Indiana. These were among the states hardest hit by the

eight-year "Dustbowl" drought in the 1930s -- the worst

in U.S. history.

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