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Winds, dead trees help Colo. wildfire spread

DEL NORTE, Colo. -- A colossal wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday.

The fire-friendly weather has prevented crews from doing much to tame the blaze, which grew overnight to 108 square miles, up from 100 on Saturday. The speed with which the fire has spread is exceptional: It was just below 50 square miles Friday evening.

No structures have been lost in the fire, and no injuries have been reported.

It is doubtful fire crews can establish any containment lines until there's a break in the weather, possibly Tuesday, officials said. They remained optimistic they can protect the nearby towns, however.

As of Sunday, firefighters remained focused on protecting South Fork, the Wolf Creek ski area and homes along Highway 149.

Crews hoped to get aircraft up to drop water over the fire before afternoon winds of 30 to 40 mph returned Sunday.

Pete Blume, a commander with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Command Team, said the wildfire is the worst ever known to hit the Rio Grande National Forest.

"It's not typical to have these kinds of fires here," Blume said.

Firefighters are hoping for a break in the winds and anticipating July monsoons to help fight back the flames.

Until then, Blume said, "with that much beetle kill and drought we could have every resource in the country here and still not put in a containment line." More than 600 firefighters were battling the blaze, and more are coming every day.

Still, fire officials believe portions of the blaze will likely burn all summer in forested, nonresidential areas, with full extinguishment probably months away.

Residents and tourists were settling in for a long wait before they can return to their homes, cabins and RV parks.

Summer visitors include many retirees from Texas and Oklahoma who come to the mountains to flee the heat.

Elsewhere in Colorado, about a dozen fires also continued to burn. Firefighters were making progress on a 19-square-mile wildfire near Walsenburg in southern Colorado. The fire was 10 percent contained.

And a wildfire in foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver was expected to be fully contained Sunday evening. That fire burned 511 acres and forced 100 people to leave their homes.

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