Derecho Fears Continue for Mid-Atlantic as Colorado Wildfire Torches Homes

D.C. area faces possibility of high winds Thursday as wind-blown flames ruin more than 300 Colorado homes.

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Nearly 15 million Mid-Atlantic residents are at moderate risk of severe storms Thursday, the National Weather Service forecasted just before 9 a.m. EDT, bringing another day of worry for residents fearful of a replay of the powerful June 2012 derecho storm front that whipped out of the Midwest with winds gusting over 74 mph.

Meanwhile in Colorado, residents have a less theoretical concern as wildfires fanned by high winds destroy homes and thousands of acres of forest.

The most significant of the Colorado fires for humans is the Black Forest Fire, which as of Thursday morning was zero percent contained. A list of residences released by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office on Thursday morning revealed more than 300 homes were deemed "total" losses.

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Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, authorized $10.15 million on Wednesday for fighting the Black Forest Fire and two other blazes - the Royal Gorge Fire in south-central Colorado and the Klikus Fire in the southern part of the state. A fourth fire in Colorado, the Big Meadows Fire, affects 600 acres in the Rocky Mountains, but does not currently threaten any communities.

Two Air Force C-130 transport planes and three Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters assisted with the Black Forest Fire containment efforts Wednesday, KMGH-TV reported. The transport planes spread fire retardants and the helicopters dropped 500-gallon buckets of water.

Additionally, close to 9,500 residents are being forced to flee their homes as part of a mandatory Black Forest Fire evacuations, and nearly 900 criminals living at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility were also hauled away from the fire, the Canon City Daily Record reported Tuesday.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center outlook for Thursday says Mid-Atlantic residents could see "potentially damaging wind gusts as [a weakening mesoscale convection system] progresses through northern Mid-Atlantic coastal areas by mid to late morning."

Another storm front later in the day could be more harrowing, the weather service outlook suggests. "A new cluster of storms appears to be evolving" west of the central Appalachians, the forecast says.

"It is possible that this new convective development over the Ohio Valley will continue to slowly intensify...with an increasing risk for severe wind and hail... as it progresses through an unstable environment toward the central Appalachians," the outlook says. "Thereafter... it is not clear if this convection will maintain intensity and progress east of the mountains... or whether new development will occur with a deepening surface trough to the [leeward side] of the central and southern Appalachians."

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A derecho storm by definition travels at least 240 miles and features wind gusts of at least 58 mph, according to the NWS. They can be found along squall lines of advancing cold fronts.

On Thursday afternoon "a few supercells appear possible" in the Mid-Atlantic, and "activity may organize into a southward advancing squall line with the risk for severe winds and hail... before weakening later this evening," the NWS says, cautioning of "uncertainty concerning potential for additional strong/severe storm developments across the Mid-Atlantic coast region later today."

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