June 15, 2012 / 10:35 PM / 6 years ago

Fire forces evacuation of 200 homes in Colorado

DENVER (Reuters) - Residents of 200 northern Colorado homes were evacuated after a wildfire jumped the Cache la Poudre River late Thursday, officials said.

Managers of what is known as the High Park Fire had hoped that the river would act as a natural firebreak, but gusty winds sent flames across the river close to a 1,000-home subdivision at the foot of Poudre Canyon.

None of the homes in the area have been lost, and incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said Friday that crews would focus their efforts on protecting homes in the narrow canyon.

Burning on private and public land 15 miles northwest of Fort Collins, the lightning-sparked blaze has blackened 52,068 acres, killed one person and destroyed 48 homes since it ignited last weekend.

Hundreds of residents remain out of their homes as firefighters battle what has become the third-largest wildfire in recorded Colorado history.

Hahnenberg said the fire will not be completely extinguished until snows hit the Rocky Mountains this fall.

“Mother Nature will put out this fire,” he said.

In neighboring New Mexico, more of the 2,500 people forced to evacuate their houses by wildfires raging near the resort village of Ruidoso returned home on Friday. The first evacuees were allowed to return Thursday.

Firefighters continued to gain ground on the Little Bear Fire in central New Mexico, which had burned 37,982 acres - and 224 homes - and was 45 percent contained, said fire information officer Rico Smith.

Two firefighters sustained “heat-related” injuries; both were treated and returned to work, Smith said.

In southeastern New Mexico, 400 firefighters continued efforts to extinguish the Whitewater Baldy Complex fire, the largest in the state’s history, which was 63 percent contained and had burned 290,127 acres, officials said on Friday.

Keith Coffman reported from Denver and Zelie Pollon reported from Santa Fe, N.M. Editing by Corrie MacLaggan.

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