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Jun 222013
 

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SOUTH FORK, Colo.) — A shift in the winds Friday night has fire officials sounding more optimistic about the fate of the tiny Colorado town of South Fork.

The tourist town in southwestern Colorado is threatened by the “West Fork Complex,” a combination of two giant wildfires which have already scorched 42,000 acres of land. The flames were headed directly towards the town, but a change in the weather turned the flames away.

South Fork is also lucky because the behavior of the fire has changed due to the type of forest it has encountered. The blaze initially exploded in size because it was burning in dead, dry, beetle-killed forests, but officials say it’s now burning living Ponderosa and Aspen forests where the fire doesn’t burn as hot.

The fire is currently 3 to 5 miles outside of South Fork, and firefighters are standing by in case the weather changes again.

The town’s 400 residents and hundreds of tourists have already been evacuated, and no homes have been destroyed.

“We’re still here,” South Fork Police Chief James Chavez told ABC News.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jun 152013
 

Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) — Authorities are placing the containment figure on the Black Forest fire at 45 percent, saying that evacuation orders will begin being slowly lifted.

The wildfire has destroyed nearly 500 home and is being considered one of the most destructive in Colorado history. Nonetheless, officials are urging residents not to attempt to get around the evacuation orders. El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said, “When it is safe and we can open it up, we want to open it up.”

Fire crews got a major break Friday after thunderstorms cooled the area down. Decreased winds have also helped to calm the situation, but fire officials say there are still hot spots that could be the catalyst for another fire to burn if drier conditions continue.

Police on Thursday began investigating the deaths of two people found within the fire zone as the wildfire turned deadly.

Two bodies were found in their garage near their car with the doors open Thursday. It appears they were loading last-minute items and had waited too long before evacuating, according to El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who says friends told police they had just talked to the couple who died trying to escape the flames.

“They could see a glow to the West. They were packing their personal belongings to get out,” Maketa says friends of the couple told authorities.

Though Maketa has given no indication that the fire was intentionally set to the home, the police have started a criminal investigation into the pair’s deaths.

More than 40,000 people were under mandatory orders to evacuate on Thursday, some of which were lifted Friday. During early evacuations, some people refused to leave the area, prompting fears that more bodies could be found.

Sheriff Maketa said Thursday that approximately 38,000 people and 13,000 homes have already been evacuated or affected by the evacuations.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jun 152013
 

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama spoke with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper Friday to reaffirm his commitment to helping Colorado as it deals with the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

The White House said Saturday that Hickenlooper updated the president about the current conditions on the fire just outside Colorado Springs.

President Obama expressed his concern for the damage that has been caused by the fire that started Tuesday and gave his condolences to the families who have lost relatives.

Nearly 500 homes have been destroyed and two people were killed preparing to flee from the wildfire.  Authorities have lifted some evacuation orders and thousands of people are expected to return to their homes Saturday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jun 072013
 

iStockphoto(WELD COUNTY, Colo.) — The northeastern corner of Colorado could be the 51st state if its residents have their way.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway told ABC News that his constituents feel “ignored and disenfranchised” by the state government and Colorado State Senate Bill 252 is the “last straw” in “threatening their way of life.”  Conway and other county leaders plan of response proposes that willing Colorado plains counties form a new state and call it “North Colorado.”

The bill that has the commissioner and others up in arms would create renewable energy sources in the state. According to Conway, this bill would raise power rates for rural Colorado while exempting municipal entities from any similar rate changes.

“If you are going to impose mandates, impose them on everybody,” Conway told ABC News. “I think [this is] just one more example of the disconnect happening in the state of Colorado [between urban and rural areas]…it isn’t a Democrat or a Republican thing.”

As cited by Conway, the other factors contributing to the disconnect between the Democrat-controlled legislature and the overwhelmingly Republican rural counties include the passing of gun control legislation, “inequity” in school funding, poor transportation infrastructure and greater state focus on developing oil and gas industries at the cost of local agriculture.

While Conway admits that creating a new state will be a long process, he believes the timing and scenario of the proposal will help push it into fruition.

“We believe the way to move forward is to let people vote on this,” he said.

In the coming weeks, constituents and county leaders alike are encouraged to participate in talks discussing North Colorado statehood and garner public interest. The deadline for joining the secession movement is August 1, 2013.

“If there is enough interest we’ll go ahead and put it on the November ballot,” Conway told ABC News. “We want it to be ready to go for the legislative session in January and have that debate as soon as possible.”

If the measure was adopted, it would still need approval from theGeneral Assembly, the governor and the Colorado Legislature would need to petition Congress for the creation of a new state.

According to a report by the Coloradoan, Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, said it is still early to say whether this plan would survive in the legislature, but that doesn’t deter Conway.

“This should be a very long road, we have hurdles and I think that’s great,” he said. “At the end of the day the nice thing is that the people will decide this.”

Groups in other states have attempted similar feats including Arizona, Maine, Utah, Tennessee, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

May 192013
 

iStockphoto(DENVER) — Colorado’s recently approved gun control laws, passed in response to the Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., massacres, are being challenged by a delegation of sheriffs who say the laws are unconstitutional.

In March, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed off on some of the toughest gun control legislation in the country, including a law mandating universal background checks for the purchase of firearms and another restricting the size of high-capacity magazines.

A lawsuit was filed on Friday in Colorado’s U.S. District Court on behalf of 54 of the state’s sheriffs in an effort to block the laws from taking effect.

“This lawsuit is for your rights and for your safety,” Weld County Sheriff John Cooke said at a news conference on Friday.

“These bills do absolutely nothing to make Colorado a safer place to live, to work, to play or to raise a family. Instead these misguided, unconstitutional bills will have the opposite effect because they greatly restrict the right of decent, law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, their families and their homes,” he said.

All but 10 of the state’s 64 sheriffs, who are elected officials, signed their names to the lawsuit.

Tom Sullivan, who lost his son Alex Sullivan in the Aurora movie theater massacre, told ABC News’ Denver affiliate he didn’t understand the backlash to the laws.

“I do not understand why these politicians are picking guns over people,” he said, “and why they want to make it easier for criminals to get guns and for other families to go through what we did.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio