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Hundreds driven from homes as Colorado West Fork wildfire spreads

Hundreds of people were driven from their homes in the town of South Fork, Colo., as a cluster of roaring wildfires – collectively known as the West Fork Complex fire – scorched its way through the southern part of the state. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

Hundreds of people were driven from their homes in the town of South Fork, Colo., as a cluster of roaring wildfires – collectively known as the West Fork Complex fire – scorched its way through the southern part of the state.

Together, the fires span over 53,000 acres, said Mike Blakeman, a spokesman for the Rio Grande National Forest.

They are the latest in a string of raging fires that have plagued the western United States this season.

The Black Forest fire, the most destructive in Colorado state history, was fully contained on Friday, but other fires continue to blaze. Arizona’s Doce Fire, which started on Tuesday and now spans almost 7,000 acres is only 15 percent contained.

Gregory Bull / AP

Firefighter Cole Ingram, of the San Juan Hotshots based in Durango, Colo, walks with a chainsaw as his crew clears brush from around structures Saturday, June 22, 2013, in South Fork, Colo.

As of Saturday, the West Fork Fire – the largest of the West Fork Complex – had grown to 42,500 acres, according to Blakeman.

The fire burns just three miles outside of South Fork, a town with many part-time residents that is known for its proximity to camping and hiking grounds. It served as a backdrop for the 1983 comedy "National Lampoon's Vacation."

With the help of shifting winds, firefighters have so far been able to keep the flames away from the town.


The Red Cross set up a shelter at Del Norte high school, about 15 miles from South Fork. According to Cindi Shank, the executive director of the southwest Colorado chapter of the Red Cross, the shelter housed about 28 of the town’s 400 evacuees on Friday night.

“They were very pessimistic Friday morning,” Shank said of the evacuees. “But that changed when they were able to go back [to South Fork] and see that their houses were still there, and there weren’t any flames.”

The evacuation has been terrifying for some residents who had to leave their pets and possessions behind, she said.

“One elderly evacuee was really upset,” Shank told NBC News. “She had to leave her dog behind.”

Two Red Cross workers returned to the town with food for firefighters and they brought the woman’s dog back with them, Shank said.

 “We have a great team here,” Shank said, describing her crew of Red Cross workers as well as the firefighters attempting to contain the fire.

Strong winds have made the fires extremely erratic and thus almost impossible to predict.

Saturday’s weather forecast presented challenges for firefighters battling the flames. The National Weather Forecast predicted low humidity and high gusts of wind, both of which had the potential to augment the already vast fires.  

The Black Forest fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., torched 509 homes and killed two people.

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