DENVER – Crews in northern Colorado were facing powerful winds as they battled a blaze that has scorched about 86 square miles of mountainous forest land and destroyed at least 181 homes, the most in state history.
Meanwhile, local authorities are focusing on another concern – looting.
The destructiveness of the High Park fire burning 15 miles west of Fort Collins surpassed the Fourmile Canyon wildfire, which destroyed 169 homes west of Boulder in September 2010. More than 1,630 personnel were working on the Fort Collins-area fire, which was sparked by lightning and is 45 percent contained.
Although some rain moved through Saturday evening, it wasn’t enough to quell the fire.
“The problem is that when you have a fire like this, even if it rains it evaporates before it hits the ground,” said Julie Berney with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
On Sunday, high winds prompted fire managers to ground all helicopters working on the blaze and to send 96 notices to residents, ordering the immediate evacuation of the Hewlett Gulch Subdivision in the Poudre Canyon area north of the fire. It was unclear how many homes were affected.
As firefighters tried to get the upper hand on the blaze, which has burned large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land, local authorities have dispatched roving patrols to combat looting.
Deputies arrested 30-year-old Michael Stillman Maher of Denver on Sunday on charges including theft and impersonating a firefighter. The sheriff’s department said Maher was driving through the fire zone with phony firefighter credentials and a stolen government license plate.
His truck was later seen near a bar in Laporte, and investigators say they found a firearm and stolen property in the vehicle.