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Evacuation orders lifted as Colorado wildfire eases

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Evacuation orders were lifted on Saturday for hundreds of Colorado residents forced to flee their homes due to a wind-driven wildfire in a canyon northwest of Denver, as firefighters made progress in containing the blaze, officials said.

Calmer winds, higher humidity levels and cooler temperatures allowed firefighters to cut containment lines around 45 percent of the so-called Galena Fire, said Nick Christensen, spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.

The blaze signaled an early start to the wildfire season in the drought-stricken state, which last year had its worst fire year on record.

In 2012, forest and brush fires scorched 384,803 acres in the state, destroyed 650 homes and killed six people, according to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

The latest wildfire erupted on Friday about 75 miles northwest of Denver near the city of Fort Collins and Lory State Park and has charred between 750 and 1,000 acres. But no injuries were reported and no structures were lost, Christensen said.

He added that all evacuees would be permitted to return to their homes by Saturday evening. Hundreds of residents were ordered out of their homes on Friday afternoon after erratic winds quickly spread the flames near populated areas.

Poudre Valley Fire Authority chief Tom DeMint told reporters investigators had pinpointed the origin of the fire and determined that it was human-caused, but he gave no further details.

DeMint said residents allowed back in their homes should be prepared for further evacuations if the high winds forecast for Sunday materialize and cause a flare-up. "If we have another ignition source, it's game on," he said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman: Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and David Brunnstrom)

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