South Fork residents allowed back home near fire

SOUTH FORK, Colo. (AP) - People were allowed back to the southwestern Colorado town of South Fork on Friday, a week after residents and visitors were forced to evacuate because of a massive wildfire.

The evacuation order was lifted because firefighters feel confident they can defend the summer retreat should the fire again advance toward it. They've dug a wide bulldozer line that they can expand if needed, and they have also been dropping water along U.S. Highway 160 near town all week.

The town relies on tourism during the summer, especially visitors from Oklahoma and Texas looking to escape the heat, so business owners have been anxious to reopen.

The West Fork Fire, one of three wildfires burning on a total of 140 square miles in the area, is within about 3 miles of the town.

Residents were being asked to remain on alert if conditions change or lightning starts a new fire. They're also being warned to watch out for fire engines on the road and to not stop to take photographs of the fire or the air tankers and helicopters used to fight it.

Justin Breedlove, the manager of Alpine Accents, a group of seven luxury cabins outside of town, was excited to get back to work after spending a week at an RV park outside South Fork. He said the only sign of fire in the area was some haze from smoke.

"You cannot see a single burned tree," he told The Associated Press as he drove back to the cabins.

Some customers canceled their reservations for early July because of the fire, but Breedlove hopes the cabins will soon be full with people looking to hike and go four-wheeling in nearby areas untouched by flames.

The fires have been fueled by beetle-killed trees and fanned by hot, windy weather. The fire burning near Creede, an old mining town that also attracts tourists, has been the more active one lately. That town, near the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, remains open, but vehicles traveling there need to be escorted by pilot cars.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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