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Wildfire burning nearly 2 months near Estes Park has cost $1.9 million in firefighting efforts

7:42 PM, Dec 4, 2012   |    comments
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Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith announced late Tuesday that residents of Colorado Highway 66 and U.S. Highway 36, up to and including Aspen Brook Drive, will be allowed to return home at 9 a.m. Those allowed to return will get an emergency evacuation at 7 a.m. – an ostensibly more welcome notification than the evacuation warnings that started early Saturday morning after gusting winds blew the fire 3 miles east in about a half hour.

Those winds caused the fire that has burned since Oct. 9 to double in size over the weekend. While not all mountain residents and business owners will be able to return home Wednesday, Smith also announced tentative plans to lift the remaining evacuations along the Colorado 66 corridor on Friday.

Winds on Tuesday continued to challenge the firefighting effort in Rocky Mountain National Park as an attempt to drop slurry from an air tanker proved futile.

"The wind blew it away, and it wasn't effective, so they called it off for the rest of the day," David Eaker with the National Park Service said.

It was the first attempted drop against the wind-fed wildfire since the weekend. Gusty conditions have kept most of the firefighting aircraft grounded. But burnout operations and firefighters digging lines have made progress on the east perimeter, aiming to prevent further spread toward Estes Park.

More winds are expected to keep firefighting aircraft grounded Wednesday.

About 1,000 buildings have been threatened by the human-caused fire. One cabin in the Moraine Park area has burned, and the effort to fight the blaze has cost about $1.9 million.

Firefighters from across the country are among the 250 people involved in the fire containment effort. The fire is 40 percent contained.

Park service officials are investigating the cause of the fire, believed to have been started by an illegal campfire at a backcountry campsite.

(Copyright © 2012 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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