Colorado wildfire rages as firefighters gain on New Mexico blaze

(Reuters) – Hot weather was expected to stoke an unchecked wildfire in southern Colorado on Tuesday that forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes.

The 416 Fire near Durango, southern Colorado. REUTERS/Courtesy La Plata County, Colorado

The blaze, dubbed the 416 Fire, spread across some 2,400 acres (971 hectares) early on Tuesday near Durango, Colorado, where the temperature was expected to reach into the high 80s.

The fire, which began on Friday, was just 10 percent contained on Tuesday morning, as about 825 homes remained under evacuation, officials said.

“In the coming days the fire is expected to burn actively,” the U.S. Forest Service said in an alert. “Firefighters will continue building defensible spaces around homes and structures.”

About 250 miles (400 km) to southeast, 1,110 residents of Cimarron, New Mexico were allowed back into their homes after showers on Sunday helped quell part of a separate blaze, the Ute Park Fire, which burned 36,000 acres (14,569 hectares) of drought-parched grassland and timber since erupting on Thursday.

Cimarron, a frontier-style town, lies about 140 miles (225 km) northeast of Albuquerque, the state’s largest city. Ute Park is about 10 miles (16 km) west of Cimarron.

By early Tuesday, fire crews had managed to carve containment lines around 25 percent of the blaze, up from zero containment on Sunday morning.

About 75 people from the small nearby community of Ute Park, near the Colorado border, remained under a mandatory evacuation on Monday, said Judith Dyess, spokeswoman for the multi-agency Southwest Incident Management Team managing the blaze.

The causes of both fires were unknown and under investigation. No injuries or property losses were reported from either.

“Critical fire weather and smoky conditions are expected to return in the coming days as a high pressure system is building from the south,” fire officials said in an alert regarding the New Mexico fire.

The nearby Santa Fe National Forest was closed to the public indefinitely on Friday in a rare measure prompted by the heightened fire risk from prolonged drought.

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