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High Park Fire: Firefighters Gaining Ground, Most Evacuated Residents Can Return Home In 2 Days (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

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Firefighters watch as flames leap hundreds of feet in the air as the High Park wildfire fire explodes on the south side of Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, Colo., on Thursday, June 14, 2012. The wildfire started Saturday and has burned over 50,000 acres. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Firefighters watch as flames leap hundreds of feet in the air as the High Park wildfire fire explodes on the south side of Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, Colo., on Thursday, June 14, 2012. The wildfire started Saturday and has burned over 50,000 acres. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Firefighters appear to be gaining the upper hand on the High Park Fire burning near Fort Collins, the largest fire currently burning in the state. On Wednesday, officials announced that the majority of residents who were evacuated from the region should be able to return to their homes over the next two days.

Fire crews have the 87,284 acre blaze 65 percent contained as of Wednesday, according to InciWeb.org. Last week, containment had fallen from 60 percent to 45 percent.

While much of the interior of the fire is still burning, the perimeter of the fire did not grow on Tuesday.

And as the firefighters increase containment of High Park Fire, they plan on sharing their resources with the other multiple fires burning along the Front Range. "We are going to help those folks out," Incident Commander Beth Lund said about coordinating the most effective use of fire resources.

However, the High Park Fire still has a long way to go and firefighters will continue to be aggressive with the blaze. "We will have the necessary retardant capability and aircraft to manage flare-ups," Air Operations Director Hugh Carson said. "We will continue to have dawn-to-dusk aircraft coverage over the incident."

High heat over the weekend produced a surge of new fires burning throughout Colorado and also provided fuel and devastating growth conditions for the fires already burning. A total of ten major fires were burning over the weekend, all part of the worst wildfire season in a decade.

More than 1,805 firefighters battle what is now the second largest fire in Colorado history as well as the most destructive. The High Park Fire burned an additional 57 homes last week, bringing the total number of homes destroyed to 257. Authorities expect that number to grow after further assessment of the burned-out area is complete.

Reporters were recently given a tour of a burnt out community along Larimer County Road 29C, Missile Silo Road. 9News' Kevin Torres spoke with firefighters in the area who spoke about the devastation and the time it will take for the area to recover -- at least a generation, firefighters said. Patrick Love of the Poudre Fire Authority told Torres, "Most of us will be dead before things look the way they used to."

Burning since June 9 after lightning struck a tree on private land and now on its 18th day, firefighters battle the wildfire with the help of 22 helicopters, 164 fire engines and 11 dozers. The cost of the fire to date is $31.1 million.

A radiometric imaging system -- called the Radiometric Airborne Mapping System (RAMS) -- which provides real time GPS coordinates for areas of identified heat, and heat sources (open flame, smoldering, buried or diminishing heat) arrived over the weekend and fire officials plan on attaching it to the bottom of a helicopter to scan the fire area and help determine where to focus their efforts.

The massive fire has now burned approximately 136-square-miles -- to put this size into perspective, that's approximately the same size as the cities of Boulder, Broomfield and Fort Collins, Colorado combined.

InciWeb.org has the latest evacuation information:

  • Pre-evacuations are still in place in the Poudre Canyon from Pingree Park Road to Glen Echo and north on CR 69 to Goodell Corner. Shorline Drive is also under a pre-evacuation. All residents previously evacuated are also still on a pre-evacuation alert.
  • Evacuation orders remain in place for the following areas:
  • On 6/22 Fire officials issued evacuation orders for residents along County Road 74E from Hewlett Gulch Road east to County Road 37. (6 contacts) At 7:15 p.m. Fire officials issued an immediate evacuation along Highway 14 from Hewlett Rd and Wild River Rd, east on Hwy 14 to include all of Poudre Park. Evacuees are asked to go to Cache la Poudre Middle School and use 80c as the egress road.
  • An evacuation order was issued at 2 p.m. on 6/22 for all of Glacier View, including Kelly Flats Road. This includes all residents of Glacier View filings 1-8, homes north of County Road 74E to include Green Mountain Dr, Mount Axtell Dr., Mount Moriah Rd., Mount Simon Dr., and all connecting roadways in that area.
  • Mandatory evacuation orders were issued on 6/17 for residents in the Hewlett Gulch subdivision area. The area runs from the Glacier View 9-12 filings (already evacuated) east to the Hewlett Gulch Trail, north to CR 74E and south to HWY 14.
  • An evacuation order for the 9th, 10th and 11th filings of Glacier View, to include the area west from Eiger Road to Rams Horn Mountain Road and north from the Mount Blanc Guardian Peak area to the north end of Mount Everest Drive, was issued. Evacuations were also ordered along Many Thunders Road and south into the 12th Filing of Glacier View. The road block is located at Eiger and Many Thunders Mountain Road.
  • Pingree Park Road, Hourglass and Comanche reservoirs, east on Buckhorn Road up to and including Pennock Pass, NE to junction with Stove Prairie and Hwy 14; West to junction with Highway 15 and Pingree Park Road
  • County Road 44H (Buckhorn Road) from County Road 27 to Pennock Pass and residents to the south approximately 3/4 - 1 mile.
  • Buckhorn Road up to the Stove Prairie School.
  • Poudre Canyon from MM111 to MM114 on Highway 14. (Stove Prairie to Hewlett Gulch Trail)
  • The area between CR 27E and Stove Prairie Road and south through the entire Rist Canyon area including Davis Ranch Road and Whale Rock Road.
  • South on County Road 44H 3 miles to just north of Stringtown Gulch Road, Paradise Park Road, Moose Horn Lane, Magic Lane and Spencer Mountain Road.
  • Old Flowers Road from Stove Prairie Road to the 8000-block of Old Flowers Road.
  • Stove Prairie Road north along County Road 27 to Highway 14, east along Highway 14 to approximately mile marker 111, southeast to Rist Canyon Fire Station 1, then back west to to include Wilderness Ridge Way, Rist Creek Road, Spring Valley Road and County Road 41 and all of the roads that run off it.

For official fire maps and live updates from the ground of the many Colorado wildfires currently burning, visit InciWeb.org.

Residents who live in areas where property damage has occurred can call 970-619-4086 to find out the status of their home.

LOOK: Dramatic photos, video of the High Park Fire

Also on The Huffington Post

High Park Fire, Northwest Of Fort Collins, Colorado
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