Residents anxious to return to Colorado fire zone

Last updated 10:26 17/06/2013

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With evacuees anxious to return, US firefighters are working to dig up and extinguish hot spots to protect homes spared by the most destructive wildfire in Colorado's history.

The labour-intensive work is necessary because extremely dry grass and trees could quickly ignite if wind stirs up hot spots in the densely wooded Black Forest near Colorado Springs.

Firefighters did get some help from the weather as steady rain moved through the area. But that weather came with some lightning, which sparked a small grass fire near one home.

Nearly 500 homes have been burned by the 57-square-kilometre fire, which is 65 percent contained. Crews hope to have it fully under control later in the week.

Even though the fire was no longer active enough to produce a large smoke plume, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said it wasn't safe for people to return home until roads and downed power lines were repaired.

Additionally, the death of two unidentified people trying to flee the fire was still being investigated. Maketa said he was in no rush to have people return to an area that, at least for now, was still being considered a crime scene.

Some evacuees outside the burn area have been allowed back home. Those with property in the burn area have returned with escorts to check on their property or to pick up items, but Maketa said some were then refusing to leave once they were done. He urged fire victims to cooperate or risk being arrested.

Trudy Dawson, 59, was at work when the fire broke out on Tuesday and quickly spread in record-breaking heat and strong winds. Her 25-year-old daughter, Jordan, who was on her way from Denver to visit, spotted the smoke, called her mother and went to the house.

With only 30 minutes to evacuate, she only had time to find a family cat and to open a corral gate so the horses could flee.

Jordan and two adult siblings went to the property the next day with a sheriff's escort and found the horses, unhurt, standing in their corral.

"It was just skeletons of vehicles and ash everywhere. It's haunting. It looks like it's right out of a horror movie," Jordan Dawson said.

It's unknown what sparked the blaze, but investigators believe it was human-caused and have asked for help from the state and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as they sift through the ash.

It's only a few kilometres away from the state's second most destructive wildfire, the Waldo Canyon Fire, which burned last summer.

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- AP

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