Firefighters battle 13 fires in western U.S.

Gov. John Hickenlooper declared disaster emergencies Wednesday in parts of Colorado

June 13, 2013

Crews were so busy battling blazes across the West that the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday it was mobilizing a pair of Defense Department cargo planes to help – a step taken only when all of the Forest Service's contracted tankers already are in use.

The Black Forest fire, one of three wildfires roaring through Colorado, has burned thousands of acres and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

The largest of the blazes, the Black Forest fire in El Paso County, had grown to between 8,500 and 12,000 acres Wednesday afternoon, covering 48 square miles. It had already destroyed 92 homes as it chewed its way toward Colorado Springs, authorities said.

No injuries or deaths have been reported, but El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said officials were trying to confirm the whereabouts of one person reported missing Wednesday.

The area is not far from last summer's Waldo Canyon Fire, the most destructive on the record books in Colorado, that destroyed 346 homes and killed two people.

One aircraft and dozens of firefighters worked to contain the Royal Gorge fire south of Denver near Cañon City after the blaze was reported around 1 p.m. (3 p.m. ET) Tuesday. U.S. Highway 50 and local roads were closed as mandatory evacuations were put into effect for the surrounding area

Officials expressed concern for the Royal Gorge Bridge, a suspension bridge that sits more than 950 feet over the Arkansas River, as the fire burned on either side. The park surrounding the bridge remained closed until further notice, General Manager Mike Bandera said.

A third fire, in the Rocky Mountain National Park southwest of Boulder, spread to about 600 acres. The Big Meadows fire was zero percent contained Thursday.

Gov. John Hickenlooper declared disaster emergencies Wednesday for the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires and a 60-acre fire in rural Huerfano County, authorizing a combined $10.15 million to help pay for firefighting and other costs.

Wildfires also were burning in New Mexico, Oregon and California, where a smokejumper was killed fighting one of dozens of lightning-sparked fires.

In New Mexico, a wildfire burning in the steep, narrow canyons of the Pecos Wilderness north of Santa Fe grew to more than 12 square miles Wednesday.

In southwestern New Mexico, firefighters were trying to keep a massive wildfire from reaching an old mining town whose 45 or so residents have been evacuated. That fire was burning in a mountainous area of dense forest.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports the following number of active fires throughout the U.S.: Arizona (1), California (2), Colorado (3), Idaho (1), New Mexico (4), Nevada (1), Oregon (2), and Washington (1). Nearly 42,100 acres of land are involved. Year to date, 133 large fires have been contained.

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