BELLVUE, Colo.— More people evacuated by a northern Colorado wildfire are set to return home Thursday, the second wave of evacuees allowed back in as many days as firefighters ramp up their attack on the blaze that has burned over 100 square miles.
Other evacuees were allowed to return Wednesday, but some kept their bags packed because they were warned to stay ready to leave again.
Firefighters are trying to increase containment lines around the fire and put out hotspots within the burn area before a return to more hot weather Friday.
"Mother Nature has allowed us this window, and we have responded very aggressively," said Brett Haberstick, a spokesman for fire managers.
The fire burning on more than 68,000 acres destroyed at least 189 homes, making it the most destructive in Colorado history. The Denver Post reports the estimated $19.6 million in damages caused by the fire also marks a state high (http://goo.gl/kmcYc ). It's 55 percent contained.
Firefighters are making progress against another blaze in central Colorado. A 2-square-mile wildfire near Lake George, is 39 percent contained, despite a meteor warning that led authorities to temporarily ground firefighting aircraft.
Chaffee County Sheriff W. Peter Palmer said his office received multiple reports, including one person who thought a meteorite might have landed in a wooded area north of Buena Vista. Palmer said officials could not confirm that report.
Meanwhile, the crew of a heavy air tanker spotted something while making a slurry run on the blaze, said Steve Segin, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
"They landed as they normally do to reload and, for safety reasons, they grounded themselves until they could figure out what it was they saw," he said.
The Colorado sightings corresponded with a report of a possible meteor filed by the crews of two commercial aircraft over Liberal, Kan., as well as another from Raton, N.M., near the Colorado state line, said meteorologist Scott Entrekin of the National Weather Service in Boulder.
Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said he had no such reports. He also said there were no reported disruptions to commercial airline traffic.
In Arizona, dense smoke from a wildfire near Payson prompted a health watch in the Phoenix area on Wednesday. Residents were asked to avoid using gas-powered lawn mowers and to limit driving or carpool.
A New Mexico fire also prompted Albuquerque officials to issue a health advisory as a thick plume of smoke rose from the wooded area along the Rio Grande on the northern edge of the state's largest city. Crews worked to put out flames burning on both sides of the river and appeared to be gaining the upper hand by nightfall.
The Romero fire was declared 70 percent contained on the west side of the Rio Grande. On the east side of the river, the Sandia Lakes recreation area managed by Sandia Pueblo was being evacuated and authorities were trying to move livestock from the area.
__ In California, firefighters have gotten the upper hand on a 385-acre fire near Sequoia National Park in California and evacuees have been allowed to return to their homes and cabins.
— In Wyoming, Firefighters a wildfire burning on over 4 square miles in a remote and mountainous area of the Medicine Bow National Forest was 5 percent contained.
— In New Mexico, a fire that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses in southern New Mexico was 60 percent contained. A fire in the Gila Wilderness, the largest in state history, is at 463 square miles and is 80 percent contained.
— In Arizona, the wildfire that caused haze in Phoenix made a rapid run to the east, spreading under twin transmission lines that send power to the state's major metropolitan areas. Firefighters reinforced containment lines to the north to keep the 8,100-acre blaze from reaching two small communities about three miles away.
— In Hawaii, the largest wildfire of the season has scorched at least 5,200 acres on the Big Island. Two separate fires have been burning there since Monday. One came dangerously close to a hospital and forced the closure of its emergency room.
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