DEL NORTE, Colo. — Crews defending small homes, a ski area and a handful of roads against an erratic wildfire in Colorado's southwest mountains hoped Monday for a break – any break – in the weather that will allow them to launch a more strategic assault on the backcountry blaze.

The West Fork Fire likely will burn for months, said incident commander Pete Blume. And crews are not expecting to make any real gains against the 117-square-mile burn until the summer monsoon season brings cooler temperatures and rains, hopefully in early July.

"This is a significant fire with significant problems, and we are not going to see any significant containment until we have significant changes in the weather," said Blume, who is with the Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Command.

The fire is feeding on beetle-killed trees and is fanned by hot, windy weather. Those conditions were expected to continue across much of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, where a 119-square-mile wildfire in the mountains of Gila National Forest is expected to grow this week.

Some 900 firefighters with a variety of aircraft were in southwestern Colorado, and more were arriving. But so far they have been in an almost completely defensive mode, waiting for the 30-to 40-mile-an-hour afternoon winds that have grounded aircraft and driven flames to subside.

The fire's price tag has topped $2.2 million, and the effort has just begun.

More than 1,000 residents and visitors left homes, cabins and RV parks in South Fork and surrounding areas Friday. As of Monday, no structures were known to have been lost.

The blaze started June 5 with a lighting strike in a rugged, remote area of the San Juan Mountains, west of the Continental Divide. A second lightning strike sparked a fire east of the divide. The two then joined, making a fast run Thursday and Friday at popular tourist areas, including South Fork and the Wolf Creek Ski Area.

A third lightning strike, meantime, sparked another fire to the West, creating what is now called the West Fork complex, the largest and most intense to ever hit this area, Blume said. That fire was moving north but was several miles from the historic mining town of Creede. Near the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, the town now has a thriving tourist industry that relies on its colorful past.

In Creede on Monday, residents and tourists shopping went about business as usual. West of town, on Highway 149, hills smoldered above homes where firefighters worked to contain the blaze.

Such larger and longer-burning fires are far from unusual in the drought- and beetle-stricken West. The Rio Grande Forest, for example, had another dry winter. More than half of its hundreds of thousands of acres of mature spruce trees have been killed by beetles, turning the usually fire resistant trees into tinder, Blume said.

Crews in Colorado also are being challenged by the high altitude, which adds to the danger and complexity of launching air assaults in smoke and high winds, said Larry Trapp, a branch director of air operations with Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Command working the east side of Continental Divide. Wolf Creek's summit is 11,904 feet; South Fork's elevation is 8,208 feet. Some peaks in the Rio Grande Forest surpass 13,000 feet.

Among the air resources on the way, he said, is a helicopter with infrared technology that can fly through the smoke to map power lines above the tree line. That will allow more tankers to take to the sky to drop retardant, Trapp said.

About a dozen fires burned elsewhere in Colorado, including a nearly 21-square-mile wildfire near the southern Colorado town of Walsenburg that was 50 percent contained.

___

Associated Press writer Greg Bull contributed to this report.

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  • West Fork Complex Fire

    CREEDE, CO-June 25, 2013: Firefighters battling the West Fork Complex get water from the Rio Grande River, June 25, 2013. The wildfire in southwestern Colorado continues to have potential for growth. (Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

  • West Fork Complex Fire

    CREEDE, CO-June 25, 2013: Firefighters battling the West Fork Complex get water from the Rio Grande River, June 25, 2013. The wildfire in southwestern Colorado continues to have potential for growth. (Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

  • In this image provided by NASA Monday June 24, 2013 one of the Expedition 36 crew members aboard the International Space Station snapped this 400mm picture of the West Fork Complex fire in southern Colorado on June 19, 2013. As of June 24, 2013, one of the largest fires currently active and being very closely monitored, the West Fork fire has destroyed 117-square-miles. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • Wildfire smoke plumes above Del Norte Peak on Sunday, June 23, 2013, in near Del Norte, Colo. A wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Colorado Wildfires

    The smoke in the sky over a ranch near South Fork, Colo., glows red from a wildfire that is threatening the town on Friday, June 21, 2013. South Fork was evacuated Friday as the fire approaches from the west. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Wildfire smoke masks the sun as it sets over a ridge Saturday, June 22, 2013, near South Fork, Colo. A massive wildfire threatening a tourist region in southwestern Colorado has grown to nearly 60 square miles, but officials said Saturday that the erratic blaze had slowed and they were optimistic they could protect the town of South Fork. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • South Fork

    A firefighter stands on top of a fire truck in South Fork, Colo., as he monitors a wildfire that burns west of town on Friday evening June 21, 2013. The town was evacuated and U.S. 160 that passes through it was closed. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Smoke fills the sky as dawn breaks over a mountain range near South Fork, Colo Saturday, June 22, 2013. Fire crews with tankers and hoses stood guard Friday night as a massive and fast-burning wildfire threatened a popular mountain tourist enclave in southwestern Colorado, forcing the evacuation of more than 400 people. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • South Fork

    Firefighters stage in a residential area in South Fork, Colo., as they monitor a wildfire that burns west of town on Friday evening June 21, 2013. The town was evacuated and U.S. 160 that passes through it was closed. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Colorado State Patrol officer Jessie Bartunek, left, speaks to a South Fork, Colo., resident who did not give his name at a checkpoint Saturday, June 22, 2013, on the outskirts of South Fork. Fire crews with tankers and hoses at the ready stood guard Friday night as a massive and fast-burning wildfire threatened a popular mountain tourist enclave in southwestern Colorado, forcing the evacuation of more than 400 people. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Firefighters from the San Juan Hotshots based in Durango, Colo, clear brush from around structures Saturday, June 22, 2013, in South Fork, Colo. Fire crews with tankers and hoses stood guard Friday night as a massive and fast-burning wildfire threatened a popular mountain tourist enclave in southwestern Colorado, forcing the evacuation of more than 400 people. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Colorado State Patrol officer Jessie Bartunek talks to a motorist at a checkpoint near South Fork, Colo., Sunday, June 23, 2013. A large wildfire near a popular summer retreat in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • South Fork

    A firefighter stands on top of a fire truck in South Fork, Colo., as he monitors a wildfire that burns west of town on Friday evening June 21, 2013. The town was evacuated and U.S. 160 that passes through it was closed. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Colorado Wildfires

    The smoke in the sky over a ranch near South Fork, Colo., glows red from a wildfire that is threatening the town on Friday, June 21, 2013. South Fork was evacuated Friday as the fire approaches from the west. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • WEST FORK FIRE

    Smoke fills the sky from the West Fork Fire in South Fork, Colo. on Thursday, June 20. 2013. Colorado Highway 160 through the area has been closed and evacuations ordered of the small town at the bottom of Wolf Creek Pass. (AP Photo/The Pueblo Chieftain, Matt Hildner)

  • WEST FORK FIRE

    Smoke from the West Fork Fire surrounds drivers on Colorado 149 near South Fork, Colo. Thursday, June 20, 2013. The highway was later closed and mandatory evacuation orders issued for the nearby town of South Fork. (AP Photo/The Pueblo Chieftain, Matt Hildner)

  • In this Thursday, June 20, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, wildfires fires approach the town of South Fork, Colo. The town of about 400 people was evacuated Friday morning, June 21, 2013. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, Penny Bertram)

  • Kim Harrison, left, prays with Black Forest fire victim Floyd Neiswanger Monday, June 17, 2013, at a picnic hosted in Rockrimmon by former Waldo Canyon Fire evacuees for evacuees from the Black Forest fire, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Neiswanger lost his home on Homestead Road in Black Forest. "We've experienced it before and we know the fear of it," Harrison, a former Waldo evacuee, said. "Jesus is my strength and I hope he can be Floyd's strength too." (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Mark Reis) MAGS OUT

  • Dead, brown, beetle-killed trees mix with live trees as wildfire burns on a hillside along highway 149 west of Creede, Colo., Monday, June 24, 2013. Crews defending small homes, a ski area and a handful of roads against an erratic wildfire in Colorado's southwest mountains hoped Monday for a break in the weather that will allow them to launch a more strategic assault on the backcountry blaze. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • A wildfire burns on a hillside along highway 149 west of Creede, Colo., Monday, June 24, 2013. Crews defending small homes, a ski area and a handful of roads against an erratic wildfire in Colorado's southwest mountains hoped Monday for a break — any break — in the weather that will allow them to launch a more strategic assault on the backcountry blaze. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • A deer lies in ash near the ruins of a home on Brentwood Drive near Colorado Springs, Colo., Monday, June, 17, 2013. Investigators believed Colorado's Black Forest Fire was human-caused, and were going through the charred remains of luxury homes destroyed and damaged in it last week. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Carol Lawrence) MAGS OUT

  • People stand near one of the hundreds of homes considered a total loss in the wildfires near Colorado Springs, Colo., Monday, June, 17, 2013. Rain helped firefighters douse Colorado's most destructive wildfire in state history, while a new wind-whipped blaze in California forced evacuations and threatened homes Monday near Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Carol Lawrence) MAGS OUT

  • Firefighters line up to cross a field putting out hot spots in an area off Hodgen Road in the northern part of the burn area near Colorado Springs, Colo., Monday, June, 17, 2013. Rain helped firefighters douse Colorado's most destructive wildfire in state history, while a new wind-whipped blaze in California forced evacuations and threatened homes Monday near Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Carol Lawrence) MAGS OUT

  • A religious statue divides the driveway of a house off Shoup Road in the burn area near Colorado Springs, Colo., Monday, June, 17, 2013. Rain helped firefighters douse Colorado's most destructive wildfire in state history, while a new wind-whipped blaze in California forced evacuations and threatened homes Monday near Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Carol Lawrence) MAGS OUT

  • Black Forest residents put up a sign thanking first responders near Colorado Springs, Colo. Monday June, 17, 2013. Rain helped firefighters douse Colorado's most destructive wildfire in state history, while a new wind-whipped blaze in California forced evacuations and threatened homes Monday near Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Carol Lawrence) MAGS OUT

  • BLACK FOREST FIRE

    Broadmoor Fire Chief Noel Perran examines a pile of motor bikes in the burn area off Black Forest Rd near Colorado Springs, Colo., Monday, June, 17, 2013. Rain helped firefighters douse Colorado's most destructive wildfire in state history, while a new wind-whipped blaze in California forced evacuations and threatened homes Monday near Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Carol Lawrence) MAGS OUT

  • A street sign at Brentwood Dr. and Black Forest Rd. sits damaged by the intense heat from the Black Forest fire, Monday, June 16, 2013. Rain helped firefighters douse Colorado's most destructive wildfire in state history, while a new wind-whipped blaze in California forced evacuations and threatened homes Monday near Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Carol Lawrence) MAGS OUT

  • Bill Layton

    In this Sunday, June 16, 2013 photo, Bill Layton poses inside his newly renovated RV with meals for firefighters in Colorado Springs, Colo. The RV was completely made over for the Travel Channel program "Rock My RV". (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Jerilee Bennett) MAGS OUT

  • People on an assembly line at McCabe's Tavern put meals together for firefighters battling wildfires in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Jerilee Bennett) MAGS OUT

  • James Gonzales

    Firefighter James Gonzales of Santa Fe, N.M. takes a break as he works hot spots on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Brandie Smith

    Firefighter Brandie Smith from Salida, Colo., walks past a burned out structure on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Black Forest Widlfire

    A burned home is viewed between two burned trees in the Black Forest wildfire area north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Black Forest Wildfire

    Firefighters are pictured beyond a burned structure as they work hot spots on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Black Forest Wildfire

    A childs toy jeep and house are colored red after being covered with fire retardant in the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Black Forest Wildfire, Power Transformer

    A power transformer hangs from electric wires after its pole was burned in two on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Black Forest Wildfire

    A burned automobile sits off the roadside in the burned forest on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Black Forest Wildfire

    A burned home is seen through charred trees on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Black Forest Wildfire

    Broken dishes are pictured at a burned out home on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • David McCann

    Firefighter David McCann with the Salida, Colo., Fire Department walks past a burned home on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Black Forest Wildfire

    A refrigerator stands in the ashes of a home destroyed by the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Deer

    A deer walks through a burned area on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Brandie Smith

    Firefighter Brandie Smith looks for hot spots on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • ATF agents look over a burned out home on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. Over 470 homes burned in the wildfire that started last Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Firefighters working on the Black Forest wildfire wave to supporters who came out to greet them as they finished their shift outside a fire camp at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, June 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Supporters greet fire crews as they return from their shifts from fighting the Black Forest wildfire outside a fire camp at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, June 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Firefighters are covered in shoot as they return from their shifts from fighting the Black Forest wildfire outside a fire camp at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, June 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Ashley Klipp, Allan MacMillin

    Ashley Klipp, right, and her son Jackson, 2, give a high-five to firefighter Allan MacMillin, of the Black Hawk, S.D., fire department as crews fighting the Black Forest wildfire return from their shifts outside a fire camp at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, June 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Supporters greet fire crews as they return from their shifts from fighting the Black Forest wildfire outside a fire camp at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, June 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Kristin Brown, Ashley Klipp, Kaitlyn Barlow, Jackson Klipp

    Black Forest resident Kristin Brown, left, who's family lost their home in the wildfire, is joined by Ashley Clipp, Kaitlyn Barlow and Ashley's son Jackson, 2, as they support first responders outside of a fire camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, June 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Abigail Conroy, Stephanie Conroy, Jillian Conroy

    Residents including sisters Abigail Conroy, 6, bottom left, and Stephanie Conroy, 7, left, and Jillian Conroy, 10, top left, cheer on first responders from the Black Forest Fire outside a fire camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, June 16, 2013. The wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Charlie Welch, Claire Welch, Milo Ericksen, Calvin Ericksen, Dylan Haberzettl, Connor Haberzettl

    Children including, from left, Charlie Welch, 9, his twin sister Claire, Milo Ericksen, 5, in black firefighter costume, his brother Calvin, 3, Dylan Haberzettl, 5, in blue and his brother Connor, 3, cheer on first responders from the Black Forest Fire outside of a fire camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, June 16, 2013. The wildfire has destroyed hundreds of homes. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)