FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Crews in Colorado and New Mexico battled wildfires Sunday that were moving fast through parched forests, forcing scores of evacuations and destroying or damaging numerous structures.
A blaze in northern Colorado was first reported Saturday morning and had grown to at least 8,000 acres by Sunday morning, while a fire in southern New Mexico was small for a few days until it began growing Friday, reaching about 10,000 acres.
Both fires have damaged property and forced numerous evacuations, but officials haven’t yet released specific figures on the numbers who fled.
Larimer County Sheriff’s Office spokesman John Schulz said the Colorado wildfire, burning in the mountainous Paradise Park area about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, expanded rapidly during the late afternoon and evening. By Saturday night, residents living along several roads in the region had been ordered to evacuate and many more were warned that they might have to flee. An evacuation center has been set up at a Laporte middle school.
Officials didn’t specify how many residents had evacuated but said they had sent out more than 1,500 emergency notifications urging people to be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
Law officers went door to door to alert people in the evacuation area, but officials were worried that not everyone got the word.
At least 18 structures have been destroyed or damaged, although authorities were unsure if they were homes or some other kind of buildings. No injuries have been reported, and the cause of the fire was unknown.
Authorities say it’s the worst fire seen in the county in about 25 years. It spread as fast as 1 1 1/2 miles an hour Saturday, skipping and jumping over some areas but burning intensely in trees in others. Flames were coming dangerously close to deputies who were telling some residents to evacuate, Sheriff Justin Smith said.
Because of the erratic way the fire has burned, unburned structures within the fire perimeter remain at risk.
Aerial footage from KMGH-TV on Saturday showed flames destroying what appeared to be several outbuildings and at least one home in the area, as well as consuming trees and sending a large plume of smoke into the air.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was authorizing federal funds to help pay for firefighting efforts.
Four air tankers and several helicopters were on the scene to help fight the blaze, which appeared to be burning on private and U.S. Forest Service land and was expected to be fueled by wind gusts of up 40 mph Sunday.
Wind was also playing a major role in the expansion of a lightning-sparked blaze in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest that jumped its containment lines and raced through thick conifer forests. Fire managers said 20 structures were damaged or destroyed.
Spanning only a few acres on Wednesday, the Little Bear fire began to grow Friday and by Saturday afternoon about 10,000 acres had been charred northwest of the mountain community of Ruidoso.