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New wildfire forces Mesa Verde to close again

SHARE New wildfire forces Mesa Verde to close again

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. — A wildfire at the nation's largest archaeological preserve swelled to 4,400 acres Saturday and was burning on a mesa near several ancient cliff dwellings.

Because of the locations of the major cliff dewellings and lack of vegetation around them, they aren't believed to be in danger from the flames, said Rob Morrison of the Durango interagency dispatch center.

"They're down in a canyon and there is no way for the fire to get in there," he said. "It's all rock and sand."

Elsewhere in the park, the fire had burned picnic tables, a shuttle bus pavilion and restrooms by Saturday evening, as well as some canopies erected over ruins to protect them from weather, said Randy Burgess, a spokesman for the firefighting team. Fire commanders did not know whether any of the ruins under the canopies had been damaged.

Saturday night, the fire was 1 1/2 miles from Mesa Verde's research center, where artifacts from ancient Southwest cultures are kept, and at a museum, park headquarters, and moving toward them, said Dave Steinke of the fire management team.

Crews were busily clearing away flammable materials and installing external sprinkler systems at the buildings and employee housing, he said.

The new blaze was sparked Wednesday by lightning on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation southwest of the park, and the flames quickly spread. Two hundred firefighters were on the scene Saturday and 150 more were expected Sunday, Burgess said.

Mesa Verde National Park was closed indefinitely on Friday, just 12 hours after it had reopened following a 10-day, 23,000-acre blaze.

None of the park's ancient Indian dwellings was damaged by the earlier fire, but tourist traffic dwindled and local businesses suffered. More than a third of the 52,000-acre park burned during the 10-day blaze.

On the Net: Mesa Verde National Park: www.nps.gov/meve

National Interagency Fire Center: www.nifc.gov