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Mandatory Evacuations Ordered As Wildfires Spark Near Denver In Jefferson County; Lower North Fork Fire Burns 900 Acres

By KRISTEN WYATT 03/26/12 11:41 PM ET AP

Colorado Wildfire

CONIFER, Colo. — A wildfire erupted amid dry, windy weather in Colorado on Monday, and authorities say at least some homes were destroyed in the mountains west of Denver.

Jefferson County sheriff's spokesman Mark Techmeyer said it's not clear how many houses were lost.

"We do know that some homes have been lost," he said. "I have no word on injuries or any of that."

The fast-moving fire burned at least 4 1/2 square miles, and residents of more than 900 homes were ordered to evacuate.

Up to a dozen smaller fires were reported from the northeast Colorado plains to the southern part of the state. There were no immediate reports of injuries or structures destroyed in any of the other fires.

The largest fire was about 25 miles southwest of Denver. Shelters were set up in two high schools and the Red Cross said it was preparing to send cots and blankets.

Jan Quigley said she and her husband were "just in a dither" after they got an automated phone call telling them to evacuate. They grabbed clothes, a backup computer drive and tax records and left.

"I'm hopeful it will be OK," she said.

The National Weather Service said sustained winds of up to 40 mph hit the fire area with gusts up to 55 mph, but they began to die down after sunset.

"But it's so dry out there now that even a 15- to 20-mph wind is going to spread the fire," said weather service meteorologist Bob Kleyla.

Billows of smoke were visible from downtown Denver. Kleyla said weather radar showed the smoke plume had drifted about 100 miles to the northeast by nightfall, and state health officials warned smoke could linger and affect air quality until Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., offered condolences to families whose homes were destroyed and said he will work to get federal firefighting teams and equipment if Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink requests them.

Another fire was burning on Lookout Mountain west of Denver, where homes dot the forest along a steep, winding road with spectacular views. The sheriff's department said residents of two homes were asked to evacuate.

The fire had burned 30 to 50 acres.

The Colorado Department of Emergency Management said small grass fires ignited in Morgan, Logan and Weld counties on the northeast Colorado plains. Winds on the plains were gusting to 50 mph.

Denver airport officials warned that high winds could delay arriving and departing flights by up to 60 minutes Monday night.

Pueblo County in southern Colorado reported nine small fires ranging from debris piles to a car destroyed in an auto body shop after embers from a trash fire spread to the building.

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Associated Press reporter Rema Rahman contributed from Littleton, Colo.

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Filed by Ryan Grenoble  |