- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

DENVER The largest wildfire in Colorado history continued to rage out of control yesterday, forcing firefighters to abandon efforts to fight it from the ground and prompting more evacuations.
The so-called Hayman fire grew from 77,000 to 85,000 acres yesterday as dry, erratic winds moving at up to 30 mph pushed the flames both north and south. The 3-day-old blaze closed to within about 25 miles of Denver, leading authorities to encourage more residents in the southwestern suburbs to evacuate.
Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton surveyed the damage by air yesterday with Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Joe Allbaugh, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The devastation is just amazing," said Mrs. Norton, who is from Colorado. "It's the largest fire in Colorado history and it's still actively burning. The wind is blowing in every direction."
Hundreds of firefighters continued to battle the blaze from the air, concentrating on the northeast border nearest to Denver. The fire's rapid progress and intense heat made it impossible to fight it from the ground, and it remained zero percent contained, said Forest Service spokesman Tony Diffenbaugh.
"We don't want to put firefighters out there if it's going to be too dangerous," he said.
Authorities also announced a lead in discovering who started the massive blaze, which sprang from an illegal campfire near Hayman. A ranger said he spotted a pickup truck speeding away from the fire's epicenter Saturday, and that he wrote down the license number.
In Teller County, at the fire's southern end, authorities ordered the evacuation of 10 subdivisions. At the northern end, Douglas County sheriff's office "highly encouraged" residents of six subdivisions, including Roxborough Park and Sedalia, to pack their belongings and leave.
Even the Cheesman Reservoir, a main water supplier to the Denver metro area, failed to stop the blaze. The fire hit the reservoir, forked around it and then closed the fork around the reservoir yesterday, said authorities.
So far the Hayman fire has only destroyed one structure, although authorities said that 3,700 homes and buildings remain under threat.
The news was more encouraging in Glenwood Springs, where the Coal Seam fire continued to burn. One of eight fires now raging in Colorado, the Coal Seam blaze grew yesterday from 8,500 to 10,000 acres, but firefighters managed to slow its progress.
That fire has so far destroyed 24 homes at an estimated cost of $4.5 million. About 400 firefighters managed to dig a containment line at the fire's southern end and began to contain the blaze.
With eight fires burning at the same time in one state, this could be the worst fire season in memory, said Mr. Allbaugh. He noted that FEMA received funding requests for 42 fires last year, but that the agency has already funded 42 blazes this year, "and we're just in June."
Mrs. Norton said military forces would join the National Guard in helping battle the Colorado blazes. About 800 firefighters were assigned to the state yesterday, bringing the number to over 2,000.
Haze and ash continued to cloud the air in metro Denver. Smoke plumes from the Hayman fire shot over a hundred feet in the air, drifting as far as western Nebraska.
On Monday, Mr. Owens declared a ban on open burning and on the sale and use of fireworks. Three state parks were also closed.

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