South Fork Fire: Colorado Town Evacuated As Wildfire Approaches

 @AndrewBerry1 on June 22 2013 2:50 PM
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U.S. Forest Service photo shows fire rising over the West Fork Complex in Colorado taken on June 20, 2013. Scorching temperatures, low humidity and gusting winds have much of Colorado under red-flag warnings for extreme fire danger, the National Weather Service said in a bulletin. Picture taken on June 20, 2013. REUTERS/The Pike Hotshots/U.S. Forest Service/Handout via Reuters

The mountain town of South Fork in southwestern Colorado has been evacuated after reports of a massive wildfire threatening to engulf the area.

Teams of fire crews armed with tankers, hoses and two DC-10 jets stood ready to defend the town against the 65-square-mile fire on Friday, and ABC7 reports that the town was still standing as of Saturday morning.

“We’re still here,” said South Fork Police Chief James Chavez.

No structures have been damaged so far, and United States Forest Service spokesperson Laura McConnell indicated that the fire was still 5 miles from the town.

South Fork is under threat from the West Fork Fire Complex, which consists of three separate wildfires: the West Fork Fire, the Windy Pass Fire and the Papoose Fire. ABC7 says the initial blaze began on June 5 due to lightning on the other side of the Continental Divide. The fire then began making its way toward South Fork, driven by wind fueled by dead trees killed by a beetle infestation.

"It's like gasoline up there," Cindy Shank, a former firefighter and executive director of the southwest Colorado chapter of the Red Cross, told the A.P.

"I've never seen a fire do this before," Shank continued. "It's really extreme, extreme fire behavior. It has split into two pieces. There are two heads to the fire."

The town was evacuated early on Friday. As ABC7 notes, there are 400 permanent residents in South Fork. However, the area is a popular tourist destination, attracting thousands during the peak summer months.

"It will be a couple of days before South Fork is out of danger," Jim Jaminet, a fire management officer for the Rio Grande National Forest, told evacuees, according to the A.P.

South Fork mayor Kenneth Brooke, who has remained in town, is taking a similarly honest approach when talking to evacuees.

"I just tell them it doesn't look good," Brooke told the A.P. "I tell them the truth, that the fire is coming. I just tell them to keep themselves safe, evacuate as need be and don't come back.”

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