July 11, 2005
By Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Photo: The Mason Wildfire burns south of Wetmore, Colo., on Sunday, July 10, 2005. (AP / Ed Andrieski)
Beulah - Optimistic firefighters waited for a break in the weather today while anxious evacuees waited for news about an 11,000-acre wildfire that chased 5,000 people from their southern Colorado homes.
"It's a nasty one. We hope the weather will cut us a break in the next couple of days," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Dave Steinke said.
A cold front was moving toward the wildfire, and Steinke said the winds were calmer and the humidity was higher today, a boon to firefighters who had faced sweltering heat and high winds the day before.
The blaze was threatening 750 houses, outbuildings and other structures in Beulah and the surrounding ranching country, nestled in very dry terrain in the Wet Mountains about 150 miles south of Denver.
The lightning-sparked fire was discovered Wednesday.
Firefighters raised their estimate of the fire's size by 3,000 acres but said some of that was due to better mapping.
No injuries had been reported and no homes had burned.
Residents forced from their homes met for coffee and searched for news.
"Sitting around, waiting to see if your house is going to burn down is the strangest feeling," said Angie Griggs, 49.
"Now we're just laughing about it because what else can you do? You can't cry," said Griggs, who had to take the day off because she forgot to grab socks and work clothes when her family left their home.
About 250 Boy Scouts and 30 staffers at the San Isabel Scout Ranch were taken to a high school near Pueblo, about 25 miles from the fire.
"Some of them were upset and scared, but once they got here they had a blast," said John Stauffer, an assistant scoutmaster with a troop of about 30 boys from Olathe, Kan. "It was like a slumber party." Pueblo area businesses donated clothes, towels, pizzas and other necessities, and the boys got to watch movies Sunday night.
"It's not exactly what we had planned for summer camp, but it will be memorable," Stauffer said.
More than 420 people, nine air tankers, five helicopters and 24 fire trucks were on the scene. Gov. Bill Owens declared a state of emergency for the fire area and put National Guard helicopters on standby, but none of the aircraft were immediately requested, said Owens spokesman Dan Hopkins.
In South Dakota, a wildfire blackened about 3,200 acres in the Piedmont area of the Black Hills, destroying a mobile home, a motor home and an outbuilding. The flames were about 5 percent contained today, fire officials said.