Firefighters battle huge US blazes

2012-06-13 10:59

Denver - Hundreds more firefighters were ordered in Tuesday to fight the biggest wildfire in a decade in Colorado, as federal agencies scrambled to help tackle blazes in several western US states.

More than 500 firefighters were attacking the blaze and plans were to have as many as 700 to 800 by Wednesday, said officials. Aircraft, including five of the nine heavy air tankers available nationwide, were being used.

"We haven't turned the corner yet, but we have made progress," Steve Segin, from the Rocky Mountain incident team, told reporters, voicing hope to have the fire 10% contained by Tuesday night, despite continuing gusty winds.

In all 14 helicopters including three Blackhawks from the National Guard were helping the operation, along with five of the nine Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) available in the United States, and five heavy air tankers, it said.

"We have a significant portion of the national fleet here in Colorado," Larimer County sheriff's office spokesman Nick Christensen told reporters.

The fire, dubbed the High Park Fire, broke out early on Saturday near Fort Collins, about 100km northwest of Denver.

One dead

The blaze has mushroomed to 17 200 hectares, making it the third largest in Colorado history, having more than doubled to about 15 700 hectares from Sunday to Monday alone.

The fire has claimed one life, a 62-year-old woman whose remains were found in the ashes of her burnt-out cabin. The cause of the fire has been confirmed as lightning.

In Washington, a spokesperson said President Barack Obama called Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to voice sorrow at "the loss of life as a result of the wildfires and the extensive damage to homes and other structures.

"The President underscored that the administration .. stands ready to provide additional resources should they be needed by responders working to protect lives and property," added the White House spokesperson.

In neighbouring New Mexico, meanwhile, firefighters said better weather conditions on Monday had enabled them to make progress on containing a fire that has ravaged more than 14 569 hectares.

Nearly 1 000 crew were dealing with the New Mexico blaze, which was now 30% contained, according to an update on the website.

19 active fires

"Yesterday's break in the weather allowed firefighters to make significant progress ... However, firefighters are not lulled into complacency, because the fire is still active," it said.

The Department of Homeland Security meanwhile said it was working closely with emergency services tackling wildfires in a number of western states also including Arizona, California, Utah and Wyoming.

In all 19 active large fires were burning in nine states, "including one of the largest wildfires in New Mexico history and one of the largest wildfires in Colorado history", it said.

And about 4 500 extra firefighters have been dispatched by federal agencies, which are also providing emergency funding to help states cope with the costs of tackling mass blazes.