Colorado, New Mexico Fires Force Hundreds To Flee

Firefighters on Sunday battled wildfires that have spread quickly in parched forests in Colorado and New Mexico, forcing hundreds of people from their homes.

Fire crews battle a wildfire in a mountainous area near Fort Collins, Colo. The blaze has grown to 31 square miles and has destroyed or damaged at least 18 structures. Authorities say it's the worst fire in Larimer County in about 25 years

Laporte, Colo. -- Firefighters on Sunday battled wildfires that have spread quickly in parched forests in Colorado and New Mexico, forcing hundreds of people from their homes.

The Colorado fire, burning in a mountainous area about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, has grown to 31 square miles and has destroyed or damaged 18 structures.

The fire near the mountain community of Ruidoso in southern New Mexico was 40 square miles Sunday. It has destroyed at least 36 structures.

The fire is smaller than the Whitewater-Baldy fire - the largest in the state's history - but it's more concerning to authorities, because it started closer to homes, said Dan Ware, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. He estimated the number of Ruidoso evacuees in the hundreds.

More than 300 firefighters were battling the blaze, but strong winds Sunday grounded help from air tankers.

Firefighters also were battling a wildfire that blackened 6 square miles in Wyoming's Guernsey State Park and forced the evacuation of campers and visitors.

In Colorado, authorities sent 1,800 evacuation notices to phone numbers, and about 500 people checked in at Red Cross shelters.

Authorities say it's the worst fire in Larimer County in about 25 years. It spread as fast as 1 1/2 miles an hour Saturday. Eight air tankers - including two from Canada - and several helicopters were on the scene to help fight the blaze.

Kathie Walter and her husband helped friends several miles away evacuate from the Colorado fire on Saturday. When they got home, they were surprised to get a call warning them to be ready to evacuate just in case. But Walter didn't want to wait.

"We just said 'Hey, let's get out of here,' " she said.

The blaze is the latest to hit Colorado's drought-stricken Front Range. In May, a fire set by a camper's stove charred 12 square miles in the Poudre Canyon area. In March, the Lower North Fork Fire 25 miles southwest of Denver killed three people and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes. That fire was triggered by a prescribed burn by the state forest service that grew out of control.