- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

DENVER As bad as June has been for fueling wildfires in Colorado and the West, July could be worse.
Owing to severe drought and dry, windy weather, the West is expected to experience its worst fire season in years, perhaps decades. The forecast calls for high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity through September, according to the National Weather Service.
That means the Hayman fire, the biggest fire in the history of Colorado and the largest of six wildfires raging statewide, could be the tip of the iceberg, authorities say.
"Probably the most dangerous thing that concerns us is how early this has occurred," said Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican, after touring the fire sites yesterday. "Anyone who has lived in Colorado knows that we have fires but generally we don't have them this early in the year."
A relatively cool day and winds that blew south helped keep the massive Hayman fire in check yesterday, halting its advance toward Denver's southwestern suburbs. The blaze stood at 90,000 acres yesterday, with the flames just 5 percent contained.
Hundreds of firefighters working at the inferno's northern end made progress yesterday in digging a fire wall between the blaze and the southwest communities. With the fire too enormous to douse, authorities say their strategy is to try to starve it by depriving it of brush and trees.
Much of the fight took place yesterday at the blaze's southern end, near Lake George, where firefighters chopped down trees, dug fire lines and soaked houses with water.
In what experts described as an unusual move, authorities divided the firefighting effort on Wednesday between two posts: They kept the southern command at Lake George but added a second command at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock at the blaze's northern end.
"It's not about the size of the acreage," said Dave Hallock, a Bureau of Land Management official at the Castle Rock site. "It's more about the complexity of the situation the lack of access to roads, the homes in the path of the fire and where the fire is headed."
Twenty-two homes have been lost in the Hayman fire, down from the 51 estimated Wednesday, and damage has been set at $29 million. About 5,430 people have been evacuated, and as many as 40,000 remain on evacuation alert.
The news was better in Glenwood Springs, site of a second large fire. The 11,000-acre Coal Seam fire was 25 percent contained yesterday, and most of those who had been evacuated were able to return to their homes.
"Today's the first day you got a real counterpunch," Mr. McInnis told firefighters.
Four C-130 airplanes arrived in Colorado yesterday to help the slurry bombers and bucket-carrying helicopters working the fire. The Forest Service called for another 1,800 firefighters to join the 2,000 battling the blazes.


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