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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Close to 12 Fires Burning Out of Control in Colorado

Aired June 11, 2002 - 08:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: To Colorado this morning, where this morning firefighters may be getting a small break because of a slight shift in the winds. Nevertheless, close to 12 fires are still burning out of control in the state, including one near Denver that has torched more than 75,000 acres and could force the evacuation some of 40,000 people from the outskirts of the city.

Joining us now from Denver, Rick Havel is with the us U.S. Forest Service.

Good morning, welcome.

What is the status of, first of all, of the fire that was threatening Denver at one point yesterday?

RICK HAVEL: Well, good morning, Paula.

Thanks for the opportunity to share the status of the fire. The Hayman fire is somewhere between 75,000 and 80,000 acres. We're thinking 77,000-78,000. Right now, we've got one type one incident command team on the fire. We've ordered two more. We're hoping, as you just said, for a change in the weather and a wind shift, and the best of all worlds is we get a northeast wind and it starts to blow the fire back on itself.

ZAHN: It is terrifying to see these pictures of the actual fire, but to give the audience a perspective of just how huge this fire is, we're going to show a satellite picture now that will give you an idea of just how immense it is. Tell us a little bit more about the fire inspection you've conducted from the air of the Pike National Forest area.

HAVEL: Yes, in fact, yesterday, I was up in the air and I flew all of the fires in Colorado except the Missionary Ridge fire near Durango, which is a large fire as well. We've got seven large fires going in Colorado right now. Flying this fire yesterday, the Hayman fire, the smoke column was well above 25,000-30,000 feet. It is a rather awesome spectacle. We've been working really closely with the county sheriffs to evacuate people out ahead of the fire.

Right now, the fire is split into two heads. One is potentially heading for the pine conifer area, and the other into the Roxborough Park area. And we've evacuated folks out in front of that and again we're just hoping for and praying for a good wind shift this morning. It will help our crews.

ZAHN: Yes, coming back to the suburban Denver area, at one point yesterday you were concerned you would have to evacuate some 40,000 people. Now that the winds are shifted, what are the chances of that happening?

HAVEL: Well, we still have that concern. And to date the winds still -- we're still predicting winds today. We're just hoping that we get a favorable wind. Now we've evacuated about 3,000 people, and we're -- potentially we could evacuate as high as 40,000 people. We've got trigger points set up depending on what the weather does and what the fire behavior does. But yesterday we had -- in the last two days we've had extreme fire behavior. We've had flame links over 100 feet. And this fire is just really devastating.

ZAHN: Do you have containment of any of the seven large fires you've just talked about?

HAVEL: We have containment of one of the fires, which is the Banty fire, which is northwest -- in northwest Colorado. But all of the other fires are not close to being contained that the point. We've just had very difficult weather conditions. In Glenwood Springs yesterday, I was there, and that's the area where we had the south canyon fire in 1994 on Stone King Mountain that killed 14 firefighters. I was there yesterday, and we were having some winds coming down through there over 60 miles an hour. So until we get the wind and some favorable conditions, we do not put our firefighters at the head of these fires, in front of them, because it is just simply too dangerous.

ZAHN: We're going to lose the satellite here in about 10 seconds. I know inspectors really can't get on the ground to fully inspect the area, but how many homes do you think you've lost in the state so far?

HAVEL: We've lost, in this particular episode of fires, somewhere around 60 to 80 homes.

ZAHN: Oh, that's horrible. Well, we hope Mother Nature gives you a break out there. We'll be keeping a close eye on this and your cable. Good luck to you and all the volunteer firefighters that have come in from all over the country to assist you in this tough time.

HAVEL: Thank you, Paula. And one last thing if I could. I was in Glenwood Springs yesterday at the Wild Rose Bakery, and they gave me free coffee and a Danish and the public there really cares and they're really supportive of our firefighters. So thank you, again.

ZAHN: Glad to hear that. And they've been affected so deeply by fires in the past. That's nice they're giving back that way. Good luck.

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