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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press The remnants of a home destroyed by Tuesday's fire are seen in Moab, Utah. The wildfire destroyed eight homes in the tourist town.

Thursday, June 14, 2018 1:00 am

West combating wildfires

Colorado, Utah, Wyoming work to contain blazes

Associated Press

DENVER – A fast-moving brush fire destroyed eight homes in the Utah tourist town of Moab, while more than 3,000 people in Colorado and Wyoming fled multiple wildfires scorching the drought-stricken West on Wednesday.

The blaze in Moab, known for its dramatic red rocks, started in a wooded area Tuesday night and quickly spread to homes over less than a square mile, police Chief Jim Winder said. Crews were extinguishing embers Wednesday.

Moab residents Tim Clark and his girlfriend Tina Saunders grabbed their dogs, family photos and a laptop, evacuating with their home in flames.

“Those houses just started going like dominoes,” Clark told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

Police said the early investigation has ruled out natural causes for the blaze that ignited near a creek that is frequently used as a walkway in a largely blue-collar neighborhood. It was not near the tourist-heavy areas in the town known for its proximity to Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

In Colorado's mountains, residents have evacuated more than 1,300 houses as flames threatened an area known for its ski resorts. Firefighters, with help from aircraft, got a quick jump on a fire near Silverthorne after it was reported Tuesday and have managed to keep it from spreading beyond about 91 acres in heavy timber, including trees killed by pine beetles.

Across the state, Colorado's largest fire has burned about 43 square miles over nearly two weeks. Residents could go back to about 180 homes no longer threatened at the northern edge of the fire Wednesday, but others remained out of more than 1,900 houses.

The blaze about 13 miles north of Durango is in the Four Corners region where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet and which is in the middle of a large swath of exceptional drought.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the rapid response from emergency crews has helped prevent a repeat of devastating wildfires in 2012 and 2013. Years ago, he said fire departments were hesitant to commit resources to fighting every fire, and launching a coordinated response to a major blaze could take up to two days.

Hickenlooper said better coordination has cut down on delays, and the state reimburses local departments for initial response costs, in an attempt to control a blaze before it can spread.  

Meanwhile, a wildfire in Wyoming's Medicine Bow National Forest doubled in size over 24 hours, burning about 8 square miles. Nearly 400 seasonal and permanent homes have been evacuated because of the fire near the Colorado border.