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High Park fire update: 85 percent containment, many subdivisions reopened

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Update, 5:49 a.m. June 20: The containment percentage of the High Park fire near Fort Collins continues to inch upward; it's now estimated at 55 percent.

Unfortunately, the number of acres blackened -- a sum just shy of 60,000 -- does likewise. But by the dreadful standards set by this historically destructive blaze, yesterday was positive.

The recently updated federal InciWeb page devoted to High Park notes that firefighters strengthened and held control lines at the southeast corner of the fire, and did likewise north of Buckhorn Road and south of Poudre Canyon, with the exception of a spot fire across Poudre Canyon near Sheep Mountain that was marked for battle throughout the night.

However, the fire grew on the west side of the 92-square-mile-plus zone, in the Cache La Poudre wilderness area. The flames were undoubtedly encouraged by winds that didn't reach the maximum feared under a Red Flag warning, but proved vigorous enough to challenge the 1,911 personnel the Larimer County Sheriff's Office counts on the ground and in the air.

The conditions prompted pre-evacuation orders for the Rustic area. Meanwhile, roaming patrols, National Guard staffers and video surveillance are being used to ensure that residences in the burn area don't fall victim to looters -- and while we haven't seen a flood of reports about such crimes, the bizarre case of faux-firefighter Michael Maher serves as a reminder that while disasters bring out the best in most people, this phenomenon isn't universal. No new homes have been confirmed destroyed, with the 189 residence figure holding steady. Approximately 1.3 million gallons of water had been dropped on the fire as of June 19, and more will be raining down today from the air squad, which includes seventeen helicopters. The estimated cost of fighting the lightning-sparked conflagration: $17.2 million and steadily clicking upward.

Look below to see the latest videos from the scene, followed by nearly two weeks' worth of previous coverage, replete with photos and additional clips.

Update, 5:53 a.m. June 19: At last, the High Park Fire near Fort Collins is at the 50 percent containment point. But this beast is far from tamed. At latest count, around 92 square miles have been blackened, and the number of homes destroyed has risen again, this time to 189. Moreover, the number of people battling the blaze is such that two separate parts of the Colorado State University system have been virtually taken over by firefighters.

As noted on the U.S. Forest Service InciWeb page devoted to the High Park Fire, yesterday's Red Flag warning, put in place due to the prospect of wind gusts up to fifty miles per hour, proved to be mainly precautionary. The breezes stayed relatively mild in the fire zone, giving the 1,773 folks on the scene a chance to boost the containment percentage a smidge rather than losing ground.

Their gains were modest due in part to temperatures in the nineties, which only exacerbated the already arid conditions. And given that there's another Red Flag warning for today, a setback isn't off the table.

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office puts the cost of the operation to date at $14.7 million, and the loss of private property has been astonishing. Another assessment of the Buckhorn area down to Redstone Canyon revealed another eight homes had been wiped out, bringing the total to the aforementioned 189.

Meanwhile, a mandatory evacuation order remains in place for the area east of the Glacier View 9-12th Filings. As the LCSO notes, the new evacuation area is bounded on the east by Hewlett Gulch Trail, on the north by CR74E (Redfeather Lakes Road), on the west by the previous evacuation area and on the south to Highway 14 (Poudre Canyon Road). Evacs have also been issued for the Soldier Canyon and Mill Canyon areas, and pre-evacuation notices have been sent to those living in the Shoreline Road area south of Lory State Park. For a complete list, check www.Larimer.org.emergency.

As the response continues, CSU has become a nexus for activity of the non-scholastic sort. Larimer County has opened the High Park Fire Disaster Recovery Center at Johnson Hall, and firefighters are staging at the main campus, as well as the Pingree Park satellite.

Photos from CSU follow these new shots of the conflagration, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

Page down to see photos from CSU's main and Pingree Park campus, followed by our previous coverage.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts