Strong winds are fueling the most destructive wildfire in Colorado's history, making it extremely difficult to contain, the Associated Press reports. Gusts of 50 miles per hour have grounded aircraft fighting the High Park Fire and caused another wave of evacuations.
The fire has now scorched 85 miles of northern Colorado and destroyed 181 homes in the area, the most in state history. Over the weekend officials said the fire was 45 percent contained, but unpredictable winds have fanned the flames and blocked containment efforts.
"The wind is probably the main factor driving this fire," says Larry Long, district forester for Colorado State Forest Service. "It increases the flame intensity, increases the flame length, and causes spotting."
Spotting occurs when winds blow sparks or small fire fuel, such as pine cones, away from the main fire to start smaller separate blazes. Several spot fires, fueled by dry 30 mph winds and temperatures in the mid-90s, have made containing the High Park Fire difficult, Long says.
Currently there are more than 100 fire engines, 17 helicopters, and more than 1,600 people helping to fight the blaze. The total fire-fighting effort is estimated to cost $10.8 million.
The High Park Fire, first reported June 9, began from a lightning strike, and has caused widespread evacuations and one death in northern Colorado. Its smoke has blanketed Fort Collins, Colo. and caused state officials to issue health advisory warnings across the area, including as far away as Denver, the state's largest city.
Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.