LARIMER COUNTY — The High Park Fire west of Fort Collins burned eight more homes Sunday night, bringing the number of destroyed properties to 189, Larimer County officials said this afternoon.
Spokesman John Schulz said the homes were in the Buckhorn area down to Redstone Canyon. He said residents who lost their homes were being notified at citizen briefings today.
Schulz also said the sheriff's department has increased security at checkpoints into the fire zone to stop any possible looting. More patrols are also roaming the burn area and a surveillance camera is being used to detect any suspicious activity, he said.
On Sunday, deputies arrested Michael Maher for impersonating a firefighter after a truck with government plates he was driving was spotted inside the fire zone. The truck contained stolen property and a firearm. Maher is being held on $15,000 bond.
Brett Haberstick, a spokesman for the federal fighting team, said this afternoon that the battle against the 58,046-acre fire is going better today than Sunday. The fire remains at 45 percent contained.
Calmer winds, less smoke and less intense fire activity on the perimeter made the fight easier, Haberstick said.
"The interior is still very hot," he said.
Haberstick said he expects lower temperatures Tuesday, but the winds could pick up. Today's temperatures in the mid-90s added to the difficulty on the fire lines.
At least three homes were destroyed Sunday as winds out of the west pushed the fire east, back into areas it had already raced through.
"Yesterday really serves as a reminder...this isn't a single battle, this is a campaign," Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said Monday morning. " We are going to have some good days. We are going to have some tough days."
"Mother nature was pretty tough on us" on Sunday, added Bill Hahnenberg, the incident commander in charge of firefighters.
About 1,700 firefighters are battling the High Park fire Monday and fire command plans to use 17 helicopters, winds permitting.
The fire grew 1,500 acres on Sunday, but containment held at 45 percent.
After relatively optimal weather days in fighting the fire on Friday and Saturday, winds, low humidity and heat fueled the blaze Sunday and critical conditions are back on Monday.
Poudre Fire Authority Chief Tom DeMint likened the fire to a "dragon."
"The dragon was sleeping" late last week, DeMint said. "Now, it's awake."
As of Sunday, the High Park fire has cost about $12.6 million to fight.
Rocky Mountain National Park, south of the High Park fire, issued a burning ban Monday, tightening restrictions and disallowing campfires and charcoal briquette fires within the 415-square-mile park. Fireworks are always prohibited within the park and campfires are typically restricted to designated fire grates. Previous "total" fire bans in the park were ordered in September of 2010 and the summer of 2002, park officials said.
The National Weather Service has posted a red flag warning signaling high fire danger through 9 p.m. Monday for the northern and central mountains and high valleys, and along the Front Range foothills.
While the High Park Fire continues to burn west of Fort Collins, Springer Fire, which has burned roughly 970 acres in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, continues to grown. Both areas are in the widespread red flag warning areas.
"Record or near record heat combined with an extremely dry air mass and breezy conditions will create a very high fire danger," the weather service warns. "Conditions will be favorable for rapid growth of existing wildfire and new fire starts."
Temperatures could climb in to the 90s in the High Park Fire area and into the lower 80s in the Springer fire zone, according to the weather service. Winds in the High Park fire and Springer fire zones could gust up to 26 mph, according to the weather service.
Combined heat, winds, and extreme low — single digit — humidity will create "critical" conditions for firefighters.
On Sunday, high winds — up to 50 mph — grounded the air attack of the High Park Fire, which has destroyed at least 181 homes and killed one person since it started with a lightning strike on June 9.
On the north end of the fire, a spot fire burned eight acres Sunday in the Mishawaka area. Ground crews will be supported with helicopter water drops Monday to prevent additional spread of the spot fire.
Firefighters will continue Monday to improve and strengthen existing containment lines on the north and south flanks to keep the fire north of Buckhorn Road and south of Poudre Canyon.
Four heavy airtankers will be available Monday, winds permitting. The air tankers may also be called to other fires in the Rocky Mountains depending on crucial needs.
Kieran Nicholson: 303-954-1822 or email@example.com