Colorado wildfires threaten hundreds of homes

DENVER Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:59pm EDT

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DENVER (Reuters) - Three wildfires fueled by tinder-dry vegetation and fanned by high winds forced the evacuation of 320 homes in the foothills west of Denver on Monday, fire officials said.

The largest blaze, the Indian Gulch fire, has blackened 700 acres and his threatening 750 homes, Jacki Kelley, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, told Reuters.

The fire is burning through rugged terrain west of Golden, Colorado.

"There are no roads to the site, so the guys are fighting it from the ground," Kelley said.

No structures have burned but 100 homeowners closest to the fire were ordered to evacuate after high winds blew flames within a half-mile of the subdivision, she said.

The remaining 650 homeowners in the subdivision were warned to prepare to leave their homes "on short notice," should the fire make a run in their direction.

Some 90 firefighters on the scene were forced into a "safety zone," after gusting, 40 mile-per-hour winds on Monday afternoon made the situation dangerous for the crews, Kelley said.

Kelley said a fixed-wing aircraft that was called in from Idaho to drop fire-retardant slurry on the flames is unable to fly because of the erratic winds.

A helicopter that was making water drops on the fire since it broke out Sunday was also grounded, she said.

Another fast-moving fire near Evergreen, Colorado, is burning through dry grasses and authorities ordered 220 homeowners to evacuate the area. That fire has burned eight acres.

A third fire that burned two outbuildings near Conifer, Colorado was contained late Monday afternoon.

An unseasonably warm and dry March, single-digit humidity values, and the high winds prompted the National Weather Service to issue a "red flag warning" for most of eastern Colorado, meaning fire danger is high.

Billowing smoke from the fires is visible throughout the Denver metropolitan area.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune))

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