Helicopters rescue 23 hikers in latest Colorado wildfire

FILE PHOTO: Flames work through trees near a road block as the Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado's history, burns outside Estes Park, Colorado, U.S. October 16, 2020. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

DENVER (Reuters) - Helicopters rescued 23 hikers and three dogs from San Juan National Forest in the latest in a series of wildfires burning across Colorado and the U.S. West, officials said on Tuesday.

The Ice Fire, which broke out Monday in Colorado's southwest corner near the small former mining town of Silverton, had burned 320 acres by early evening, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management said in a statement.

The hikers were found near the Ice Lakes Trailhead, the office said, and were evacuated by the San Juan County Sheriff's Department. The trail is popular among outdoor enthusiasts for its wildflowers and greenish lakes.

Silverton residents are not yet being ordered to evacuate, but the county warned they should prepare for the possibility.

The blaze is the latest in a brutal fire season following a long period of drought across Colorado. Further north, the Cameron Peak Fire has been burning since mid-August, setting the state record for largest wildfire. It has burned more than 205,000 acres overall and scorched swaths of Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests.

Firefighters had made progress in battling it but lost about 11% containment progress overnight due to high winds, according to InciWeb, an interagency wildfire tracking site.

Fire managers said on Tuesday the Cameron fire was "very active" and crews battling the flames had to retreat for safety reasons.

At least five major fires are burning across Colorado, at a time of year when snow has generally dampened wildfire threats.

A cloud of smoky haze had settled over the Denver metropolitan area Tuesday morning, leading the state to issue an air quality health advisory for wildfire smoke in the area.

Wildfires so far this year in California have burned over 4.1 million acres - double the previous record for a year- killing 31 people and destroying 9,200 structures.

Climate change has brought warmer weather that dries out the land and drives hot winds to fan flames, scientists say, and a rise in populations living near forests has compounded the risk.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman and Mimi Dwyer; editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown)

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