TOM BEARDEN: The fire is so intense that it creates its own wind, flames exploding up steep canyon slopes in the drainage basin of the South Platte River. It's the largest fire in Colorado history, 87,000 acres, 136 square miles. The plume of smoke is so huge that it was easily visible from the orbiting space shuttle today.
Slurry bombers and helicopters try to slow the fire's progress, their task made somewhat easier today by moderating winds and lower temperatures. But the flames continue to advance in several directions. At least 21 homes have been destroyed so far, and newly threatened areas on the southern flank of the fire began evacuating today.
LINDA CHEW: All I've seen in carloads of people going by here with their furniture, their horses, their cows, everything. Makes you nervous.
TOM BEARDEN: Forest Service spokesman Barb Masinton says this will be a long fight.
BARB MASINTON, U.S. Forest Service: Containment right now is still estimated at 5 percent. They feel very good about the progress that was made along the heel of the fire. Of course, the big activity was on the southeast flank, so they're still working very hard there to gain some measurable containment in that area, and that will be a focus for today.
TOM BEARDEN: In the North, the fire front is less than seven miles from nearly 2,000 homes in an isolated suburban Denver housing development. Residents continued a voluntary evacuation of the area today.
SANDI VARGO: I just went through stuff that we couldn't replace, bay books, wedding albums, marriage license, birth certificates, stuff like that.
TOM BEARDEN: For the first time, firefighters ventured out in front of the advancing walls of flames. It was considered too dangerous to do so until this morning. They're setting backfires and building fire lines, hoping to prevent more homes from being destroyed. The government has closed the entire Pike National Forest to public access, because this fire was caused by an illegal campfire.
Today officials said they are considering closing even more public land in the Rocky Mountains because of the extreme fire danger. The state is in the midst of a three-year-long drought, and the forests are tinder-dry. On the other side of the state, people who lost their homes in another fire began returning to pick up the pieces. A 10,000-acre fire here destroyed 28 homes in the Glenwood Springs area.
BRIAN DERBY: Went to Wal-Mart yesterday, and I grabbed just one pair of socks, thinking I just needed this until I got home. And then I realized that, you know, I don't have nothing at home. I need more than just one pair of socks.
TOM BEARDEN: Since mid-April, the government has dropped more fire retardant on western wildfires than it used during the entire 2000 fire season, and that was the worst in the nation's history.