Wildfire raging near Denver kills two people

DENVER Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:30pm EDT

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Wildfire rages in Colorado

Tue, Mar 27 2012

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DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado wildfire raging in the foothills and canyons near Denver has killed two people, and more than 900 homes were ordered evacuated as a result of the blaze possibly ignited by embers from a controlled-burn operation, authorities said on Tuesday.

The fire, which has destroyed at least 15 homes and sent rolling plumes of thick smoke drifting over Denver's southern suburbs, has charred 4,500 acres in an area roughly 20 miles from the western edge of Colorado's most populous city.

One of the people killed by the fire was "likely a homeowner or person in the area," Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley told reporters. That person was found on Monday in the fire zone and was not an emergency responder.

The second person who died was found near where the first body was located, authorities said. No further details were immediately available.

Winds in the area were forecast to blow at 10 to 15 miles per hour, which is lighter than on Monday and allow for authorities to lift a red flag warning, the National Weather Service said.

More humidity and cooler temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s Fahrenheit were also expected, the weather service said.

Reinforcements from around the country were arriving to aid the roughly 100 firefighters who were tackling the blaze on Monday, and authorities hoped to have 450 firefighters on hand by Tuesday evening, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokesman Mark Techmeyer said.

Heavy winds had hampered efforts on Monday to send airplanes aloft to drop fire retardant on the blaze.

"We hope to have those in the air before the winds pick up this afternoon," Techmeyer said.

The flames have destroyed between 15 and 25 homes, he added. The mandatory evacuation orders for 900 dwellings continued on Tuesday, after it was imposed on Monday.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Cynthia Johnston)

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