Colorado fire tops 58,000 acres; weather stays hot and windy

Story highlights

NEW: The High Park Fire is 50% contained, authorities reported Monday evening

The fire has burned more than 58,000 acres, fire officials say

More than 1,700 firefighters are battling the flames

A man is arrested for posing as a firefighter

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CNN —  

Forecasters are expecting warmer than normal temperatures and gusty winds Tuesday in a northern Colorado area already ravaged by a wildfire, not a good combination for the legion of firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze.

The High Park Fire had consumed 59,500 acres of woodland by Tuesday, but it was about 50% contained, authorities reported.

More than 1,700 personnel were battling the blaze.

Michael Stillman Maher, 30, was not one of them, although he allegedly wanted people to think he was, officials said. A fire chief reported seeing the Denver man driving a truck with a stolen government license plate and carrying phony firefighter credentials in the fire area Sunday night, officials said.

Maher was arrested in a Fort Collins bar early Monday morning and charged with impersonating a firefighter and theft.

Lighting ignited the fire that started on June 9 and has destroyed 189 homes. That number is expected to grow, and firefighters are also concerned that the blaze could shift toward dense stands of trees that have been killed by beetle infestations, according to InciWeb, a U.S. multiagency fire response website.

“It just feels really dire. It’s scary,” resident Lupe Sandoval told CNN affiliate KUSA TV. “You feel bad for everybody.”

The National Weather Service rates the fire risk in six Western states on Monday as critical. Red flag warnings are posted across 10 states, noting high winds, low humidity and warm temperatures.

The blaze has moved through forests and neighborhoods, forcing thousands of evacuations and leaving a trail of destruction. It has claimed the life of a 62-year-old woman found dead in her burned home last week.

“It will be some time before this fire is out, but our challenge now is to make sure we do everything to contain the damage,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said a tree struck by lightning about a week ago sparked the mammoth blaze in his state.

Elsewhere in Colorado, firefighters are battling a fire near Pagosa Springs that broke out last month. That blaze, also blamed on lightning, had grown to more than 13,000 acres by Monday night and was 30% contained.

And a new fire broke out Sunday and quickly spread to 200 acres near Pueblo, forcing some evacuations of residents.

In New Mexico, the Whitewater Baldy Fire has scorched more than 296,000 acres, the agriculture secretary said.

More than 3,200 fire personnel from across the United States are helping local departments battle the fire, which began on May 16. The blaze was 82% contained as of Monday.

CNN’s Greg Morrison contributed to this report.