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Archive for Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Wind shift slows Colorado wildfire

July 26, 2000

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— A wind shift and thinner vegetation helped slow a wildfire that has carved an eerie landscape of burnt tree trunks and blackened ground across one-third of the nation's largest archaeological preserve.

The Mesa Verde National Park fire stalled Tuesday at an area damaged by blazes in 1972 and 1996, where shrubs were shorter and spaced farther apart, said Tim Oliverious, a U.S. Park Service fire management officer.

Firefighters lit a fire in a strip of thick vegetation between the two old fire sites, hoping to prevent the 22,000-acre blaze from spreading, Oliverious said.

Scattered puffs of smoke could be seen across the park early in the day instead of a giant plume that had dominated the southwestern Colorado sky for days.

Officials were optimistic they could make progress against the blaze if late-afternoon weather cooperated.

About 700 firefighters worked in 90-plus degree weather to build a line around the blaze. It was about 15 percent contained at midday, officials said.

The fire poses special challenges for firefighters and archaeologists, who are working side by side to protect mounds of rocks and rubble artifacts from ancestral Pueblo Indians, who thrived amid the rugged mesas and canyons between 600 A.D. and 1300 A.D.

About 17 archaeologists, all certified firefighters, walk just ahead of the firefighters, tacking red-and-white tape on the historic sites.

"Sometimes you don't even know it's there until they point it out to us," said firefighter Wayne Kills Enemy, 32, of Rosebud, S.D.

"I saw a foundation of a dwelling, a two- to three-room dwelling, that at first just looked like a pile of rocks. But then I saw the outline of the rooms."

Lightning sparked the blaze in the park Thursday, forcing the evacuation of visitors and employees. It moved toward the well-known sites, including the Cliff Palace, earlier this week.

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