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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
Progress in Colorado fires fight
Firefighters in Colorado douse hotspots in the blazes
An extra 800 firefighters have been called in
Firefighters have reported progress in their battle to extinguish several forest blazes in the US state of Colorado.

A change in weather has meant that lighter winds are blowing the flames back on themselves, enabling firefighters to get closer to the flames and raising hopes that they can be brought under control.

However about 40,000 hectares (100,000) acres of land have now been destroyed, and homes are still in danger near the main city of Denver.

"Winds are starting to push the fire southward, away from the Denver metropolitan area, but many homes in built-up areas are still threatened," US Forest Service official Ron Jablonski told French news agency AFP.

Reports say that at least one person has died from breathing problems blamed on the smoke from the fires.

And children and the elderly have been advised to stay indoors.

The fires began in Pike National Forest on Saturday, and have been described as the worst in the state's history.

They may not be fully extinguished until September, and long-term weather forecasts also indicate further hot weather, which will only intensify the fires.

Reinforcements

BBC correspondents say that a further 800 firefighters have been called in to tackle the blazes, bringing the total to around 2,800.


It's just a matter of time. I know there are a lot of houses... being lost

Colorado resident Dale White
The National Guard has also been called in and there are reports that the state may call in the army or marines.

Earlier, firefighters chopped down trees, dug fire lines and soaked houses with water in an effort to stop the flames in their tracks.

More than 3,000 homes have already been evacuated, and many residents seem resigned to the fact that their homes may be destroyed.

"It's just a matter of time. I know there are a lot of houses... being lost," resident Dale White told the Associated Press news agency.

Statewide disaster

Earlier in the week, a state of emergency was declared by the Colorado governor - an action which enables the state to activate the National Guard and call on federal resources if needed.

Smoke from Colorado fires
The cost of fighting the blazes is estimated at $20m

The fires have also blackened parts of California, Arizona and New Mexico.

About 40,000 Denver residents are on alert to leave their homes if the fires get too close.

Already, 22 homes have been destroyed by the flames, in addition to 28 homes burnt down in a separate fire near the town of Glenwood Springs, AP reported.

The cost of fighting the blazes has been estimated at around $20m.

At first, authorities believed a camp fire was responsible, but investigators now say they are unsure what caused the inferno.

Soot

Some residents have swept ash off their properties daily, while the fires have also caused medical complaints.

"I thought that the solar eclipse had come a day early for some reason," said Valerie Miller of south-east Denver.

Head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joe Allbaugh, said: "[This] is the worst fire I've ever seen in my life.

"If astronauts are watching it from the space shuttle, you've got to know it's huge."

The fire has so concerned Denver authorities that its two most famous tourist destinations - Aspen and Vail - have cancelled their Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations for fear of sparking more blazes with fireworks.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Willis in Colorado
"The fires are still relentless"
See also:

13 Jun 02 | Americas
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