FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- At least 48 homes have been destroyed in a wildfire about 15 miles west of here that expanded to almost 80 square miles early Friday.
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The weekend's weather forecast calls for about a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms Friday and Saturday, welcome because of the possibility of rain but worrisome because lightning strikes could ignite new areas.
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The "High Park" fire began last Saturday from a lightning strike and quickly expanded because of dry conditions and trees damaged from beetle infestation.
An hour before midnight Thursday, about 80 more residences received evacuation orders. Nearly 2,700 people have received evacuation orders since the fire began though some have been allowed to return home. The body of 62-year-old woman was found in her cabin destroyed earlier this week.
"This is the 'what if' scenario," said Brett Haberstick, an information officer with the team fighting the wildfire. "The good thing is, that 'what if' was discussed two days ago." The entire subdivision of nearly 500 homes had been the subject of a pre-evacuation order for days, and many area residents were prepared to flee quickly if the need arose.
Nearly 1,400 firefighters have been brought in from several states to fight the blaze. Though officials estimate that it is 15 percent contained, they still consider its potential for growth extreme. On Thursday, Colorado's governor, John Hickenlooper, banned open burning and private use of fireworks throughout the state.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, visiting the fire area, stressed patience.
"This fight is just beginning," Salazar said. "We don't know where it all is going to end up."