June 6, 2018 / 12:08 AM / 5 months ago

Colorado wildfire grows, firefighters gain on New Mexico blaze

(Reuters) - Authorities sought the evacuation of hundreds of residences in southwest Colorado on Tuesday as a largely unchecked wildfire grew in size, with forecasters placing several western and southwestern U.S. states under an elevated risk for blazes.

Smoke is seen from a fire in this aerial shot above Eagle Nest, New Mexico, U.S., May 31, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media on June 2, 2018. Justin Hawkins/via REUTERS

The wildfire, dubbed the 416 Fire, grew to about 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) early on Tuesday and was 10 percent contained as it was pushed by strong winds near Durango, Colorado. It burned over steep terrain in bone-dry conditions, sending smoke billowing into the sky.

“Firefighters are being challenged by the fire’s behaviour,” said Shawn Bawden, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Blue Team, an interagency task force battling the blaze.

The fire started on Friday and has already forced about 825 homes to be evacuated. On Tuesday, La Plata County issued pre-evacuation notices for another 252 residences.

So far, there have been no reports of injuries or major damage to structures.

About 250 miles (400 km) to the southeast, the 1,110 residents of Cimarron, New Mexico, were allowed back into their homes after showers on Sunday helped quell part of a separate blaze, the Ute Park Fire, which has burned 36,664 acres (14,837 hectares) of drought-parched grassland and timber since erupting on Thursday.

Nearly 600 firefighters, using helicopters, bulldozers and other heavy equipment, had managed to carve containment lines around 25 percent of the wildfire as of Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

Cimarron, a frontier-style town, lies about 140 miles (225 km) northeast of Albuquerque, the state’s largest city. Ute Park is about 10 miles (16 km) west of Cimarron.

So far, there have been no reports of major damage to structures or injuries from the fire.

The nearby Santa Fe National Forest was closed to the public indefinitely on Friday in a rare measure prompted by the heightened fire risk from prolonged drought.

The National Weather Service has placed large sections of the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah under an elevated fire risk. Isolated thunderstorms on Tuesday night and Wednesday may bring some relief to the area that is experiencing above-average temperatures, it said.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Sandra Maler

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