Fire rages, Colorado town braces for long evacuation

DEL NORTE, Colo. — A colossal wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday.

The weather has prevented fire crews from making progress on the blaze, which grew overnight to 108 square miles, up from 100 on Saturday. No structures have been lost in the fire, and no injuries have been reported.

It is doubtful fire crews could establish any containment lines until there’s a break in the weather, possibly Tuesday, officials said. They remained optimistic they can protect the town, however.

The blaze’s rapid advance Friday prompted the evacuation of hundreds of visitors and the town’s 400 permanent residents.

Residents and tourists were settling in for a long wait before they can return to their homes, cabins and RV parks.

“They just said they had no idea how long it would be before we could back in South Fork,” said Mike Duffy, who owns the South Fork Lodge.

Duffy said he and his wife, Mary, were able to get their personal possessions before fleeing fast-advancing flames that officials initially feared would overtake the town. But with the fire still within three miles of South Fork, they are worried about the long-term impact of a prolong evacuation and news reports about the fire raging around the tourism-dependent town.

Summer visitors include many retirees from Texas and Oklahoma who come to the mountains to flee the heat.

South Fork Mayor Kenneth Brooke estimates that between 1,000 to 1,500 people had to flee, including the summer visitors and permanent residents.

More than 600 firefighters were battling the blaze, and more are coming every day.

Fire crews remain focused on protecting South Fork, the Wolf Creek ski area and homes along Highway 149 as the newest arm of the fire crept toward the historic mining town of Creede.

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