Three Dead In Colorado Wildfires

Katie DeBerge age 12, left, reacts to the smoke in her eyes as she and her mother Cindy DeBerge were reunited after Katie took shelter near a lake when a fire swept through their home in Ordway, Colo. on Tuesday April 15, 2008
AP Photo
Crews made headway Wednesday against a wildfire that raced past this farm town on Colorado's eastern plains, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate their homes.

It was one of three fires blamed for the deaths of two volunteer firefighters and a pilot. One of the fires was unchecked Wednesday, a day after it started.

Firefighters hoped dying wind and rising humidity would help them gain ground on the wildfires. The National Weather Service said rain was possible in parts of the area and there was a chance of up to a foot of snow in Colorado's eastern mountains by Thursday morning.

On Tuesday, wind had gusted to 50 mph along the Rocky Mountain Front Range and eastern plains, fanning flames that had spread across 8,900 acres - or 14 square miles - of grassland near Ordway. Authorities told all 1,200 residents of the town to leave, and no decision had been made Wednesday about when they could return.

Firefighters had contained 90 percent of the Ordway blaze, which damaged at least 24 buildings, eight within town limits, fire information officer Katherine Sanguinetti said.

Two volunteer firefighters were killed when a bridge damaged by flames collapsed under their fire truck, state Rep. Cory Gardner, whose district includes Ordway, told legislative leaders Wednesday.

The two men - John Schwartz Jr., 38, and Terry Davore, 29, were corrections officers at a state prison outside Ordway and were members of the Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department, said Ari Zavaras, director of the state Department of Corrections.

No containment lines had been established around a fire at the Army's Fort Carson that had charred 9,600 acres - about 15 square miles - by Wednesday morning, El Paso County sheriff's Sgt. Jeanette Whitney said.

A firefighting plane crashed Tuesday near Fort Carson, killing the pilot, and people living near the base had been forced to evacuate. A Fort Carson spokesman, Maj. Sean Ryan, identified the pilot as Gert Marais, 42, of Fort Benton, Mont., an employee of a company that supplies aerial firefighting services to the Colorado State Forest Service.

Authorities could not say how many people had been evacuated at the Fort Carson fire, but none had been allowed back into their homes. About 300 firefighters were at the fire, Whitney said.

The cause of the fire at the base outside Colorado Springs, about 60 miles south of Denver, hadn't been determined.

A third fire, near Carbondale in the western Colorado mountains, had damaged at least two homes. A fisherman suffered minor injuries. It had blackened about 1,000 acres. Containment was estimated at about 25 percent.

All but a handful of Ordway residents had left for the nearby communities of Sugar City and Crowley, where officials set up a shelter. An unknown number of residents were allowed to remain in a nursing care facility in a section of Ordway not threatened by the fire, fire information officer Chris Sorensen said.

Armed with a chain saw, shovel and hose, Brian Walker stood ready to protect his house from the flames.

"I thought if the fire came, I thought I could do whatever I could to stop it," said Walker, 45.

Elsewhere, a fire in central New Mexico's Manzano Mountains had charred 400 to 600 acres on steep, rugged terrain. The fire in the Cibola National Forest was threatening a lookout and some electronic sites atop Capilla Peak, said Arlene Perea, a U.S. Forest Service fire information officer.

"It's just some nasty country," Perea said. "There's rolling debris - anything from rocks to burning pine cones. Something that could roll out of there and roll under them (firefighters)."