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The South Fork fire in the drought-stricken Rio Grande National Forest more than doubled over the weekend to about 114 square miles, forcing the evacuation of a popular summer retreat in the southwestern Colorado mountains for what is likely to be a long wait as the heavy winds whip the flames into the beetle-stricken trees, The Associated Press reported.

Business owners in the town of South Fork say they worry about a prolonged evacuation’s effect on tourism-dependent town, where many retirees seek refuge from the heat of Texas and Oklahoma, the AP reported.

South Fork Mayor Kenneth Brooke told the AP that as many as 1,500 people were evacuated from the town, where 400 people live full-time, and that more than 600 firefighters are fighting the fire, with more coming on each day.

The newest arm of the fire is creeping toward the historic silver mining town of Creede, threatening the Wolf Creek ski area and homes on Highway 149 along the way, the AP reported.

Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Command Team commander Pete Blume, said the 30 mph to 40 mph winds, beetle-killed trees and drought are “not the norm” and are combining to create the worst fire ever seen in this forest, the AP reported.

Spokesmen told reporters that evacuees “are probably looking at five days to a week” before they can return to their homes but cautioned that the fire is unlikely to be fully extinguished until “late in the year,” the AP reported.

In other Colorado fires, the AP reported:

  • Firefighters battling about a dozen fires reported progress has been made near Walsenburg in southern Colorado, where they said a 19-square-mile wildfire has been 10 percent contained.
  • Firefighters said they expect a blaze was fully contained after forcing 100 people to leave their homes and burning 511 acres in the foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver.
Rare Staff Report |