Western wildfires creating air quality concerns

Thursday , July 05, 2012 - 9:36 AM

Western Wildfires

Skyscrapers in downtown Denver are obscured by smoke drifting down from fires in Wyoming, eastern...

Kristen Wyatt

DENVER — Parts of Colorado celebrated Independence Day sans fireworks with some communities banning the holiday displays to guard against the further spread of wildfire across the region.

Though rain cooled Colorado’s blazes Wednesday, more than a dozen wildfires elsewhere in the West chewed through bone-dry timber and brush.

Wildfires in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado sent haze and smoke across Colorado’s Front Range, prompting air-quality health advisories as firefighters warned of growing fires in sparsely populated areas.

In Colorado Springs, there was good news in the fight against the most destructive fire in state history.

Light rains that fell early Wednesday helped calm the Waldo Canyon Fire, which has scorched 28 square miles, killed two and destroyed almost 350 homes. Firefighters predicted full containment of the fire Friday, with more rain, cooler temperatures and higher humidity predicted through the weekend.

Authorities are still investigating how the fire started. On Thursday the El Paso County sheriff’s office announced that investigators have pinpointed where the fire started but didn’t disclose the location.

As firefighting efforts continued, holiday fireworks were canceled across the region.

Colorado officials called off holiday displays from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, while law enforcement warned of hefty fines for people caught violating personal fireworks bans.

Residents in some parched areas were joining police.

In one Colorado Springs neighborhood, a homemade sign read, "FAIR WARNING: Anyone using or allowing use of fireworks in this neighborhood will be dealt with harshly! And that doesn’t mean just by the police!"

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which coordinates wildfire-fighting efforts nationwide, said 45 large fires were burning Wednesday, including 36 fires in nine Western states. Some of those fires:

MONTANA: Fire officials have begun jointly managing five large southeastern wildfires so they can quickly move personnel and equipment where they’re needed. That includes the Ash Creek Fire, which is the state’s largest at 382 square miles. It’s 50 percent contained. Firefighters on the Powerline Fire contained a late-afternoon run of 600 acres, nearly 1 square mile, on Wednesday.

WYOMING: Rain helped firefighters at the 16-square-mile Squirrel Creek fire about 30 miles southwest of Laramie. About 15 homes were evacuated Wednesday but they could be allowed back Thursday. An unknown number of other evacuees were able to return.

UTAH: Nine major wildfires were burning across the state, including the Shingle fire that has burned 8,200 acres and threatened 550 cabins or summer homes and 300 other structures in Dixie National Forest, about 30 miles southeast of Cedar City, officials said. The Quail Fire in Alpine has scorched more than 3 square miles and destroyed one barn. About 325 homes were evacuated but some people were allowed to return Wednesday.

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