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Firefighters Face Long Battle to Protect Denver From Blaze - 2002-06-13

Flames are approaching the outskirts of Denver as firefighters continue their battle against a massive wildfire. The blaze has burned more than 36,000 hectares. Nine-hundred firefighters working on the fire lines will soon be joined by hundreds of reinforcements.

Firefighters are cutting trees, clearing brush and dousing buildings with water.

"All we are going to do is just try to save houses," says one of the firefighters. "Save property, animals, whatever."

The blaze, which started Saturday in the Pike National Forest, has destroyed at least 22 structures and forced thousands of residents out of their houses.

Colorado officials have declared a state of emergency, which gives them access to additional resources. Hundreds more firefighters from around the state have been called in as reinforcements.

A dry winter and years of drought have left the area's vegetation susceptible to fire, and one official says it is burning like gasoline.

Bob Summer of the U.S. Forest Service stresses battle may be a long one. "If we do not get some get some breaks in the weather, there will be people here all summer," he explains.

Colorado governor Bill Owens says the fire is not a threat to Denver, but he added that the smoke is. A haze hangs over the city, and some residents have sought help for respiratory problems.