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Posts tagged ‘Fort Collins Colorado’

Genesis Project Transforming Strip Club Into Sanctuary.

A Hunt Club
Aaron Bekkela persuaded an Assemblies of God congregation in Fort Collins, Colo., to buy A Hunt Club’s building and property in the fall of 2013.

When your family owns a strip club and one of your young topless dance employees tells you that she has a message from her mother, it’s probably not one that sings your praises.

Aaron Bekkela was in that spot nearly 20 years ago, helping his dad run a topless bar in Fort Collins, Colo., home to Colorado State University.

He had just finished working the first shift at A Hunt Club and was wrapping up some paperwork when one of the bar’s dancers appeared outside Bekkela’s office door.

“I promised my mom to tell you that she and her friends are praying for you,” he recalls her saying.

While talk of Christianity was considered taboo and mocked in the Bekkela family, Aaron thanked the dancer’s mother, mentally dismissing interest in her church.

As a strip club owner, Bekkela had no business inside a church—unless it was a business deal with the leadership, he would later discover.

In his 20s at the time, Bekkela made good money at the club as the youngest of seven children, and he enjoyed the freedom to go on hunting trips with his brothers whenever he wanted. The smell of a locker room, perfume, cigarettes and booze had been with him since age 12.

Bekkela’s comfort with working at a strip club clashed with the opinions of others who were, in his words, “very religious but anything but Christian.” He suspected that the praying mother was like others he’d met.

His own mother, who had turned to religion during Bekkela’s senior year in high school, announced plans to divorce her husband, who was running the bar. After the marriage ended, Bekkela noticed that his mother’s faith had produced positive changes in her.

After his father died in 2009, Bekkela and a brother took over the bar and, a short time later, another brother gave Bekkela a Bible. About the same time, Bekkela and his wife, Stacy, received fliers from a local church, inviting first-time visitors.

By the time the second flier arrived at the Bekkela’s comfortable hillside home, Aaron had read some of his new Bible, and he admitted interest in the church’s invitation to visit.

“What? Am I going to ignite in the seat?” he asked Stacy.

When fire and brimstone didn’t rain down on Bekkela’s head, he warmed further to the idea of visiting the church again. Three pastors welcomed Bekkela, one talking with him as though his business was on the up and up. Another invited Bekkela to a Bible study, no questions asked. The reception gradually shattered Bekkela’s earlier negative perceptions resulting from “bump-ins” with religious people.

Today, the 43-year-old Bekkela repeats the praying mother’s words she offered 15 years ago when talking about his journey from the strip club into church and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as how he persuaded an Assemblies of God congregation in Fort Collins to buy A Hunt Club’s building and property in the fall of 2013.

As a new believer ashamed, broken and humiliated by his past, Bekkela managed to transfer sole ownership of the strip club to his brother while remaining the legal owner of the property in 2009. Still he wanted out completely so that he could begin anew, be baptized in water and enroll in a Christian university.

Thinking the building and land suitable for a church, Bekkela approached leaders of several area churches, offering to sell them A Hunt Club’s property.

“I got a lot of ‘That’s good’ and ‘We’ll pray for you,'” Bekkela says. “I couldn’t help [but] believe there was one out there, or a group of churches that could get it done.”

In 2010, Bekkela approached, unbeknownst to him, the home church of the praying mother he’d learned about years ago. His offer remained the same: sell A Hunt Club’s building and land to the church.

“It was really touching to me to see how God was so real in Aaron,” says Dary Northrop, senior pastor at Timberline Church. “He was so tenderhearted, so broken by all this.”

Northrop and another Timberline leader, Executive Pastor Rob Cowles, were moved by Bekkela’s persistence in trying to sell the land and building to a church. When the two of them met Bekkela at the club in the first half of 2013 to discuss his aim to sell the bar, Cowles surprised himself with what he told Northrop and Bekkela.

“I want to do this, and I have to lead it,” Cowles said.

That declaration stirred Northrop and the church’s membership to buy the strip club in late 2013 and grant Cowles leadership of the Genesis Project church plant when it opens in mid-2014.

“The thing I see about this building is it’s a place where a lot of dreams died and a place where we can seem them be reborn,” Cowles says.

Like the club destroyed the lives of many patrons and some dancers, Cowles believes the Genesis Project is a metaphor for new beginnings in the lives of people.

“Our mission is to create space for people to discover new beginnings in Jesus, who makes all things new. We want to serve the most underserved, broken people, the ones who don’t ‘do church,'” Cowles says.

Besides a 200-seat worship center, the 7,200-square-foot building will house a coffee shop and a commercial kitchen, where professional chefs will provide meals for those who need them and train people for culinary careers.

The Genesis Project shares the DNA of another church by the same name in Ogden, Utah. Both churches seek to meet emotional, physical and spiritual needs. In Fort Collins, the Genesis Project will provide classroom space for instruction in English as a second language. A ministry area for children is also envisioned.

The Ogden church gave the Genesis Project $5,000 to support the remodel and future operating expenses of the building, and another church in Loveland, Colo.—Resurrection Fellowship—offered $13,600 for startup costs. The latter was one of the churches Bekkela approached about purchasing the the strip club.

“When I heard about this, I knew right away this story was bigger than one church,” says Senior Pastor Jonathan Wiggins. “This is a kingdom story.”

“The conversion of a strip club into a church devoted to restoring families is something every believer should celebrate,” says Wiggins, who, in 2011, befriended a controversial artist much like area pastors and churches have supported Bekkela.

“We felt compelled to support this kingdom initiative and look forward to the countless testimonies that will result,” Wiggins says.

Bekkela, who is an internship and a couple classes away from a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Colorado Christian University, believes in the Genesis Project’s mission to restore broken lives.

“When you realize that you’ve poisoned a community, it’s hard to accept,” Bekkela says. “I know that God has paid my debt, but I still feel like I owe a debt.”

Bekkela will get a chance to repay that debt by investing in the lives of people his club destroyed when the Genesis Project opens. When Bekkela found the woman who invested in him through prayer nearly 20 years ago, he offered her his heartfelt thanks.



‘Biblical’ Floods Leave Thousands Homeless.

Colorado flooding
The BGEA Rapid Response Team is deploying to help bring some calm to the storm. (BGEA)

Some of the worst flooding in Colorado history has claimed the lives of at least six people, left hundreds unaccounted for and thousands homeless, causing the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team to deploy to the Rocky Mountains.

With rains falling through the weekend and most areas suffering from a sudden surge caused by 15 inches of rain, mudslides have complicated an enormous disaster area from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.

“It’s the worst that anyone has ever seen,” says Al New, Rapid Response Team manager of deployments and operations. “They’re calling it their 100-year flood.”

Nineteen counties remain under high threat of flooding, with the towns of Longmont and Lyons—where two people have died—taking particularly hard hits, according to New. Parts of Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 were shut down.

“There’s a lot of people missing, but they’re not able to get into these areas because of the mudslides, and the roads are washed out,” New says. “They can’t get helicopters in.”

Boulder has seen virtually every waterway flooded, washing away roads, bridges and homes in all parts of Boulder County. Evacuations were ordered for 4,000 residents along Boulder Creek.

“You’re looking at Boulder, Fort Collins, Aurora, Longmont, Lyons,” New says, rattling off just some of the cities devastated.

New and his wife, Toni, deployed to Colorado on Saturday to assess the situation along with Samaritan’s Purse. The Rapid Response Team will likely bring out chaplain coordinators sometime this week and volunteer chaplains soon thereafter to help minister to the emotional and spiritual care of those devastated by the massive floods.

“We’ll be looking to see where we can set up our base camp,” New says.

Colorado has seen more than its share of disasters in the past several years. The Rapid Response Team has deployed to wildfires in both 2012 and 2013 and had chaplains at the scene of the Aurora movie theater the morning after the shooting tragedy.



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Obama – Don’t Boo the RNC, Vote.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – As Republicans began their first night of convention speakers, President Obama told supporters his opponents will put on an “entertaining” show in Tampa with lots of glitz, but little substance.

“The show in Tampa I’m sure will be very entertaining and I’m sure they’ll have wonderful things to say about me,” Obama jokingly said at Colorado State University. “It will be well-produced. You know, they’ve hired all kinds of fancy TV producers… The only problem is it won’t offer a path forward.”

The crowd of roughly 13,000 started to boo as the president mentioned the GOP convention.

“Don’t boo. Vote,” he replied, which brought cheers. “That’s the best response. Vote and get some of your friends to vote.”

Continuing to woo young voters, the president warned his supporters that Republicans are feeding them a “diet of cynicism,” hoping they get discouraged and don’t show up at the polls.

His opponents, Obama said, are “telling you change isn’t possible. You can’t make a difference. You won’t be able to close the gap between life as it is and the life that we imagine for each other.”

With 70 days till the election, Obama urged: “Don’t listen to the cynics. Don’t listen to the naysayers.”


By Mary Bruce | ABC OTUS News

Finding Hope Amid Colorado Ashes.

colorado wildfires

Caroline found herself desperate, sifting through ashes.

Her mother’s home was charred to a crisp, the chimney and basement walls were the only things left standing.

But Caroline was on a mission to find family jewelry heirlooms and most important, irreplaceable photographs of her father, who died in February.

“She was there looking for things, somewhat disenchanted,” said Leo Grabowski, a chaplain with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.

Grabowski and his wife, Barb, who are originally from the Detroit suburbs but now live in Fort Mill, S.C., couldn’t help but notice the Michigan license plates when they saw Caroline’s car.

She came to Estes Park, Colo., from Ann Arbor, Mich., to check on the house owned by her mother, who was in North Carolina on a missionary reunion. Caroline’s parents spent 40 years as missionaries, mostly to Indonesia and Malaysia.

But by the time Caroline arrived, the house was gone, a casualty of the Woodland Heights Fire. Only a three-feet thick layer of ashes remained.

Still, Caroline, a woman in her 50s, longed to find a few things that would remind her of her parents.

“She had no pictures of her father,” Leo said. “She was afraid she would forget what he looked like.”

So when the Grabowskis pulled up on Saturday morning, saw the license plate and made the Michigan connection, Caroline was excited to report that her mother was currently reading Billy Graham’s book Nearing Home.

The Grabowskis started chatting with Caroline, inquiring about her own spiritual health.

“How’s your walk with the Lord?” Leo asked.

“I haven’t been doing that,” Caroline said. “I’ve been away.”

Grabowski continued: “If Billy Graham was here, he’d ask you another question: Do you know where you’d spend eternity?”

Caroline paused. She talked about a relationship with God that she used to have, but had let slip away. She talked about wanting to get back to that place.

“She prayed to rededicate her life and assure her salvation right there on the spot,” Leo said.

Grabowski noticed an immediate difference. “Her countenance changed,” he said. “And just then the pastor of her mother’s church came by and they talked and hugged. He’s going to follow up with her. She was excited.”

And then, 30 minutes later, the excitement level went up a couple notches.

“They found the pictures,” Leo said. “God was at work.”

Hearing the news was a blessing to the Grabowskis, who also volunteer at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C.

“It means I’m right smack-dab in the middle of God’s will,” Grabowski said. “When someone reaffirms their life to Jesus Christ, Heaven rejoices. He is using me and that thrills me to no end.”

Estes Park is not the only area chaplains have been blessed with ministry opportunities. In the Fort Collins area, chaplains have prayed with 150 people surrounding the High Park Fire, which destroyed more than 250 homes and more than 87,000 acres.

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By Trevor Freeze,

Chaplains Comfort Wildfire Victims.

Colorado wildfires

Depending on whether you see the glass as half empty or half full, the High Park wildfires near Fort Collins, Colo., as of Tuesday, are either 55 percent contained, or 45 percent non-contained.

For homeowners in this community north of Denver, it’s more like half empty. Especially after the fires were 60 percent contained last week.

“The unknown is what’s most difficult,” said Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain Jim Giannestras. “Most of them don’t know if their houses are standing.”

Thus far, more than 250 homes have been destroyed, with the High Park Fires burning an estimated 87,000 acres, making it the second-largest in Colorado history.

If the estimated $27 million worth of damages ring true, it will be Colorado’s most destructive ever. One person, a 62-year-old woman, has died from the wildfire.

For the Rapid Response Team, this deployment has been much different than a tornado, flood or hurricane. In many ways, the chaplains are watching the disaster unfold before the residents’ eyes.

There have been more than 1,000 mandatory evacuations in Larimer County, just north of the Poudre River.

“Listening to their questions, seeing what’s on their faces is hard,” Jim Giannestras said. “This community is very close-knit, especially up in the hills.

“They know their family’s history. They know their animals’ names.”

With the homeowners still blocked from their homes, the Rapid Response Team has had a majority of the interactions at daily community briefing meetings, where anywhere from 300 to 600 residents are clamoring for any morsel of information on their properties and animals.

“They have no idea when they’re going to allow people back in,” said Sandy Giannestras, who along with her husband, Jim, have deployed as Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains alongside Samaritan’s Purse to minister to the emotional and spiritual needs. “There’s a great need for prayer that the fires won’t pick up and undo all the progress that has been made so far.”

The chaplains have been able to further minister to homeowners from their home base, Timberline Church in Fort Collins, sharing the love and hope of Christ.

“There’s a 27-church coalition that’s working in this community,” Jim Giannestras said. “The body of Christ is alive and well here in Timberline. People want to share that personal hope and that personal need for Christ.”

New Mexico Fires They are calling it the Little Bear Fire, but for the 240-plus homes and businesses that went up in flames in Ruidoso, N.M., the effect is anything but small.

Phil and Pam Rhodes, Rapid Response Team chaplains who have been on the scene since Wednesday, have seen firsthand how homeowners are reeling from the wildfires.

“People have what I call the deer-in-the-headlights look,” Phil Rhodes said. “We’ve been asking them how they’re holding up and they’re still in shock. Whether their homes are burned or not, there’s just a sadness of what’s going on.”

The locals say the fire was started on Monday, June 4, from a lightning strike at nearby Angus Hill, but at that time they were told it was just a small fire, under control. By the weekend, 40-mph winds had swept through and changed everything.

“Thursday was our first full day here and we had so many opportunities to minister to people and pray with people,” Pam Rhodes said. “We didn’t have to look for ministry. It was just there.”

The first person Pam was able to talk with happened to be the church secretary, who welcomed some encouragement.

“I asked if I could give her a hug and she said sure and immediately tears started flowing from her eyes,” Pam said. “So many people from her congregation had been impacted.”

The fires are now 90 percent contained in Ruidoso, a south New Mexico town less than 150 miles from the Mexico border. But that doesn’t mean the emotional turmoil has passed. In some ways, it’s only begun.

“If it’s a hurricane or tornado, they don’t have an opportunity to think about it,” Phil Rhodes said. “These people have a chance to think about it and mull it over in their minds.”

And in this tight-knit community, it doesn’t altogether matter whose home was destroyed and whose was spared. It’s a community loss.

“Many people, their homes were spared, but their neighbors’ were not. And their roots were so deep but it’s a personal loss,” Phil Rhodes said. “One volunteer, her personal home was spared, but her neighbors lost their homes and she expressed a lot of anger. She had sat and watched the fire and felt it was preventable.”

But the chaplains were also struck by the strong Christian community, rallying to support each other. One couple the Rhodes were able to encourage had been a cornerstone of their local church since 1939, married 72 years now.

Opal, the wife, refused to leave her home, even after the evacuation orders were sent out, and her children drove up to the couple’s modest ranch home, trying to convince them to leave.

“She said ‘I’m not going anywhere. We’ve been here since we’ve been married,’” Pam Rhodes said. “The kids said, ‘OK, well we’re going to stay here with you. We’ll all die together.’”

Opal relented and finally evacuated, telling Pam “That’s all I needed to hear.”

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By Trevor Freeze,

Winds, high temperatures fan Colorado wildfires.

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  • A huge plume of smoke rises from Colorado's High Park Fire, with dozens of homes visible in the foreground about 15 miles northwest of Fort Collins June 11, 2012. REUTERS/Rick WilkingA huge plume of smoke rises from …

DENVER (Reuters) – Gusting winds and high temperatures hampered firefighters on Sunday as they battled to tame a record wildfire in northern Colorado that has charred more than 85 square miles (200 square km) and sent a plume of smoke billowing thousands of feet into the air.

The winds and smoke also grounded air support for firefighters battling the so-called High Park Fire raging for more than a week in mountain canyons 15 miles west of Fort Collins, fire spokesman Brett Haverstick said.

The lightning-sparked blaze has destroyed 181 homes since it was reported June 9, ranking it as the most destructive wildfire on record in Colorado.

It is also blamed for the death of a 62-year-old grandmother whose remains were found in the ashes of a mountain cabin where she lived alone.

More than 1,600 firefighters are on the scene of the fire which officials said has so far cost $11 million to fight. Smoke from the blaze was visible Sunday in Denver, 65 miles to the southeast.

Haverstick said that crews have cut a containment line around 45 percent of the blaze. Nevertheless, swirling winds and temperatures in the mid-90s have created spot fires ahead of the main blaze, he said, complicating suppression efforts.

There are more than 700 dwellings within the overall fire zone. Several hundred residents remain under evacuation on Sunday, although some who lost their homes were allowed back to survey the damage, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said.

Police and National Guard troops are providing security around the burn area in an effort to prevent looting, the Colorado National Guard said in a statement.

Authorities arrested a man early Sunday morning with “phony firefighter credentials” for felony theft and impersonating a fire official, police said.

Michael Stillman Maher, 30, was spotted driving a vehicle inside the restricted fire zone with stolen government license plates, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Maher was later apprehended at a local bar. A search of his car recovered stolen items and a firearm, police said.

Meanwhile, another wildfire fire erupted Sunday afternoon in the Pike National Forest in south-central Colorado, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Ralph Bellah.

The 200-acre (81 hectare) Springer Fire is growing quickly, forcing the mandatory evacuations of some 500 Boy Scouts camping in the area and several subdivisions, he said.

Hundreds of miles to the south in New Mexico, fire managers reported progress on a 60-square-mile wildfire burning in the Lincoln National Forest.

The Little Bear Fire has destroyed more than 220 homes and is now 60 percent contained, according to the federal fire incident command center.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Doina Chiacu)


ReutersBy Keith Coffman | Reuters 

Wildfire destroys most homes in Colo. history.

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DENVER (AP) — Crews in northern Colorado braced for powerful fire-fanning winds Saturday as they battle a blaze that has scorched about 85 square miles of mountainous forest land and destroyed at least 181 homes, the most in state history.

The destructiveness of the High Park Fire burning 15 miles west of Fort Collins surpassed the Fourmile Canyon wildfire, which destroyed 169 homes west of Boulder in September 2010.

More than 1,630 personnel worked on the fire Saturday, officials said in a late-night news release. The figure represents an increase of more than 100 firefighters from a day earlier.

The lightning-caused blaze, which is believed to have killed a 62-year-old woman whose body was found in her cabin, was 20 percent contained. The fire’s incident commander said full containment could be two to four weeks away.

Fire information officer Brett Haberstick said crews have made progress in containing a 200-acre spot fire that erupted Thursday afternoon north of the Cache La Poudre River, a critical line of defense against northward growth.

“Two 20-person hotshot crews worked throughout the day to secure lines around the perimeter of this spot fire,” the officials said in a release.

Firefighters have extinguished other incursions north of the river, but the most recent one appeared to be more serious.

National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin said some rain was expected in the fire zone Saturday evening, but it will not be enough to put the fire out.

“We need a rain that will really last all day,” he said. “But it’s better than dry wind at this point.”

Crews faced difficult conditions Sunday with wind gusts expected to hit 50 mph along ridge tops and in Poudre Canyon and temperatures in the 90-degree range.

The fire was reported June 9 and has since raced through large swaths of private and U.S. Forest Service land. It was 45 percent contained late Saturday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service, met with fire managers in Fort Collins on Saturday and said “fighting this fire is going to require us to be aggressive, persistent and also patient.

“We’re going to continue to work to make our forests more resilient. We’re going to continue to ensure that adequate resources are provided for fighting fires and we are going to continue to make sure that we encourage appropriate stewardship of our forests,” he said.

Vilsack praised Congress for allowing the government to contract additional aircraft — particularly heavy tankers — to fight wildfires across the West. But he called on lawmakers for budget certainty to help plan for future fires.

Vilsack is scheduled to hold a news conference with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in Albuquerque on Sunday.

Meanwhile in New Mexico, questions were being raised about whether bureaucratic red tape prevented firefighters from saving more homes affected by the Little Bear Fire after federal officials released transcripts of the firefighters’ response.

Congressman Steve Pearce said Friday in an interview with KOB-TV ( )  that he believed federal officials could have done more after lightning sparked the fire outside the resort town of Ruidoso on June 4. Days later, high winds sent embers more than a mile from the blaze’s end, causing the inferno to grow.

But officials released transcripts of the response on the Lincoln National Forest website that suggested firefighters were attacking the blaze as soon as it was a quarter of an acre.

The fire has destroyed 242 homes and commercial structures. It had burned 59 square miles and was 60 percent contained as of Saturday night.

Parts of the area received up to three-quarters of an inch of rain Saturday, aiding the firefight but causing flash flood warnings as a result of burned over forest. Lincoln County Emergency Services ordered an evacuation for residents in low-lying areas and around creeks or streams, but they were allowed to return home in the evening.

In Arizona, a blaze in the Tonto National Forest that doubled in size to 3,100 acres. Officials said Saturday night that the fire was 15 percent contained and firefighters continued to battle unseasonably dry fuels, high temperatures and low humidity.

On Friday, a crew member broke his leg fighting the blaze, which was burning in a remote, mountainous area about 70 miles northeast of Phoenix.


Associated Press writer Russell Contreras in Albuquerque contributed to this report.


Associated PressBy THOMAS PEIPERT | Associated Press

Wildfires gut 100 buildings in Colorado, menace New Mexico town.

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  • Local residents watch Colorado's High Park Fire, about 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Fort Collins June 11, 2012. REUTERS/Rick WilkingLocal residents watch Colorado‘s …
  • Flames erupt near a house in Colorado's High Park Fire, about 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Fort Collins June 11, 2012. REUTERS/Rick WilkingFlames erupt near a house in Colorado’s …

(Reuters) – A lightning-sparked wildfire that has engulfed scores of buildings raced out of control through the Colorado mountains north of Denver for a third day on Monday, and authorities said one woman had died in the flames.

Fueled by tinder-dry vegetation and fanned by erratic winds, the so-called High Park Fire nearly doubled in size, leaving 57 square miles (147 sq km) of timber and grasslands blackened northwest of Fort Collins, Colorado, near the Wyoming border.

Human remains were found in the ashes of a destroyed cabin in Bellvue, Colorado, and authorities said they were thought to be those of 62-year-old Linda Steadman, although positive identification had not been made.

Family members of Steadman said in a statement that she had “perished in the cabin she loved.”

Hundreds of miles to the south in central New Mexico, firefighters raced to the southern flank of a separate wildfire burning out of control in the Lincoln National Forest as flames crept closer to the resort town of Ruidoso.

About 1,500 people fled over the weekend from several communities on the northern and western fringe of the New Mexico blaze, dubbed the Little Bear Fire, officials said.

That fire, also caused by lightning, was burning in the same area where firefighters in 1944 rescued the orphaned bear cub that became known as “Smokey Bear,” a symbol of the U.S. Forest Service and the government’s fire-prevention campaign.

“We have 13 types of aircraft in the air, and we’re hitting it with everything we have to keep it from the village of Ruidoso,” said fire information officer Sean Parker.

In Arizona, authorities reported a firefighter lost his life on Friday when the vehicle he was riding in rolled over en route to a blaze in the Baboquivari Mountains west of Tucson.


Anthony Polk, who lived in Yuma and worked for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, became the third member of a firefighting team to die in the line of duty in wild-land blazes that have scorched more than 1,400 square miles (3,625 sq kms)so far this year, mostly in Western states.

The pilot and co-pilot of a tanker plane were killed when their aircraft crashed last week in southwestern Utah.

As of Monday, firefighters were battling a total of 17 large, uncontained blazes, most of them in eight Western states – New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Alaska, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

The High Park blaze, at 41,140 acres and growing, is now the third largest wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history, officials said, and remained zero percent contained. Steadman’s death marks the fourth fatality in a Colorado wildfire this year.

At least 100 structures have been consumed, including an undetermined number of homes, and one person has been missing since the blaze erupted, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said. That person lives in a neighborhood where houses are known to have been destroyed, but hazardous conditions have prevented crews from conducting a thorough search of the area.

Firefighters reported flames consistently leaping 15 to 20 feet in length, with some 300-foot-tall flames arcing from treetop to treetop as the blaze advanced at the rate of about a mile an hour, Christensen said.

Ignited late Friday night or early Saturday morning, the High Park Fire has forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes, and evacuation orders were not expected to be lifted anytime soon, the sheriff’s office said.


Hazy smoke wafted into the Denver metropolitan area to the south on Monday, prompting state health officials to issue an air-quality alert, warning people with pulmonary ailments to avoid prolonged outdoor activities.

A smoke plume from the blaze drifted as far north as South Dakota, officials said.

The blaze has become one of the nation’s highest-priority fires, with some 400 ground crews and more than a dozen air tankers and helicopters battling the flames from the air.

Federal incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said any containment on Monday would be “tenuous” given the steep, rugged terrain in the narrow mountain canyons, the dry fuels, and swirling winds.

Hahnenberg said crews could see even more extreme fire behavior should winds drive flames to the northwest into stands of trees killed by beetles, but suppression efforts will focus on the more populous southern edge of the blaze.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper toured the burn area on Sunday and met with displaced residents.

Meanwhile, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez ordered an 100 more National Guard troops to the area around Ruidoso to help protect property and assist in evacuations, bringing the total number of Guardsmen and firefighters in the vicinity to about 700.

Preliminary damage assessments put property losses at 35 structures, but officials said that number was likely to climb.

Ruidoso is located 191 miles south of Albuquerque in central New Mexico and has a year-round population of nearly 9,000 people. However, up to 75 percent of the homes are second homes, so the population grows considerably during the summer months, Parker said.

About 50 families were being housed in a high school gymnasium. Dozens of other families had found housing elsewhere or left town, Parker said.

The Little Bear Fire erupted on June 4 and was largely corralled within days, but high winds blew the blaze past containment lines and into a “rage,” said Ruidoso information officer Kerry Gladden.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Christopher Wilson)


ReutersBy Keith Coffman and Zelie Pollon | Reuters 

Wrongly convicted Colorado man set free after 16 years.

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GRAND JUNCTION, Co. (Reuters) – A Colorado man wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of a woman found strangled with a dog leash was exonerated on the basis of new DNA evidence and set free on Monday after spending more than 16 years behind bars.

              Robert “Rider” Dewey walked out of a courthouse in Grand Junction, Colorado, a free man after a judge found him innocent of the 1994 killing and said his exoneration marked a “historic day” for the state.

              “Mr. Dewey spent 6,219 days of his life incarcerated for a crime he did not do,” Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn said during the brief hearing. “This is a reminder to the entire system that it’s not perfect.”

Flynn said prosecutors had not committed misconduct, Dewey had been represented by good defense attorneys, and an impartial jury had heard the case but added: “Despite all these things, the system didn’t work.”

Prosecutors announced earlier on Monday they were seeking an arrest warrant for a new suspect in the 1994 killing who was identified by DNA testing and is already serving a life sentence for a similar 1989 murder.

              Dewey was sentenced to life without parole for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Jacie Taylor in the western Colorado town of Palisade. Taylor’s partially clothed body was found in her bathtub in June 1994. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled with a dog leash.

              Dewey, wearing a blue dress shirt and slacks and long brown hair held in place by braids, left the courthouse with his attorneys and pen-pal girlfriend Angela Brandenberg, who had not met him in person until Monday’s hearing.

His first act of freedom was to inhale deeply from a burning sprig of sage lit by Brandenburg, which he described as a Native American ritual.

“I get to step outside there, touch a tree, get a dog and kiss my girl,” he said on his release. A smiling Dewey also told reporters he was not angry about the injustice, asking, “What good would it do me?”

“They threw me into a dark hole with just a pinhole of light,” he said. “I had to stay positive.”

              Dewey said his immediate plans were to take his mother, stepfather and Brandenberg to the best restaurant in Grand Junction, about 250 miles west of Denver, and order a filet mignon.

              The latest DNA testing ruled out Dewey as the source of blood found on a shirt that also bore blood stains from Taylor. The original DNA analysis had already excluded him as the source of semen recovered from the crime scene and of scrapings taken from under the victim’s fingernails.

New analysis showed those additional samples matched the DNA of Douglas Thames, who is serving a life sentence without parole for the 1989 rape and strangulation of Susan Doll, 39, of Fort Collins, according to court papers filed in the Dewey case.


In asking for the conviction to be set aside, Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle, who handled the original prosecution, told Dewey: “I deeply regret what the system did. I wish you the best and I mean that sincerely.”

Dewey replied: “Thank you, sir.”

Mesa County District Attorney Peter Hautzinger said before the court hearing that he felt “deep regret” for Dewey’s conviction and told reporters his office was seeking an arrest warrant against Thames in connection with the Taylor slaying.

He explained that Thames was not arrested in the Doll case until after Dewey’s 1995 arrest in the Taylor murder, and Thames’ DNA information was not contained in a statewide database for inmates back then.

Dewey’s exoneration came on the same day that two men who spent nearly 30 years in prison for a brutal sexual assault and attempted murder were declared innocent in Texas after DNA evidence pointed to other men.

              Post-conviction DNA testing has exonerated close to 290 people in the United States since 1989, according to the Innocence Project, which works to reverse wrongful convictions.

              In the Texas case, James Curtis Williams, 54, and Raymond Jackson, 67, had been sentenced to 99 years in prison for the November 1983 assault of a Canadian woman who identified them in a lineup as her attackers.

              The woman had been abducted from a parking lot at gunpoint, repeatedly assaulted and then shot when she tried to flee and left for dead in a field.

Two other men who were connected to the crime through DNA testing have been charged with attempted capital murder, said Russell Wilson, supervisor of the Dallas County District Attorney’s conviction integrity unit.

              (Additional reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham).


ReutersBy Ellen Miller | Reuters 

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