Wildfire nearly contained, evac lifted for CO town

March 19, 2012 - 3:37 AM

WRAY, Colo. (AP) — Authorities lifted an evacuation order for a Colorado town of 300 late Sunday night after firefighters contained most of a wildfire on the state's northeastern plains.

Three firefighters were injured battling the blaze, and two of them were still hospitalized late Sunday, fire spokeswoman Deanna Herbert said.

Residents of Eckley were given the all-clear to return home about 9:15 p.m. Sunday, Herbert said. But the order remained in effect for and undetermined number of farms around the town.

More than a dozen area fire departments fought the fire, which started at about 1:15 p.m. south of Yuma and quickly spread toward Eckley, prompting the evacuation.

The wind-fueled grass fire destroyed at least two homes and threatened several others before it was reported 90 percent contained late Sunday night, after scorching parts of an 84-square-mile area.

Herbert said fire crews still fighting hot spots and flare-ups.

The fire sent up a huge wall of smoke in the afternoon, forcing authorities to temporarily close a section of U.S. Highway 34 east of Yuma.

"The smoke is just thick and rising way up into the air," Mike McCaleb, emergency manager in Washington County, said earlier Sunday. With high winds also kicking up dirt, "visibility was nothing."

The conditions made it difficult for authorities to assess the damage. They confirmed two homes were destroyed and multiple other residences and buildings were threatened.

"Crews expect to have more information tomorrow (Monday) when they can assess the situation in daylight," Herbert said.

Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day told KUSA-TV in Denver (http://on9news.tv/FPoIXr ) that one firefighter suffered minor burns to the face and was being treated at a nearby hospital. A second firefighter was being treated for smoke inhalation, while a third suffered minor burns to the arms.

Chris Foltz, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Goodland, Kan., said the fire was fueled by sustained winds of 30 to 35 mph, and a gust of 62 mph was measured near Yuma at about 4:35 p.m. He said the small town of Kirk just south of the fire experienced a wind gust of 68 mph soon after the blaze started.