By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Crews battling a string of wildfires in drought-stricken Colorado braced on Friday for the return of high winds that have stoked flames in what authorities have called an unprecedented outbreak of late-season wildfires.
Three of the largest wildfires in Colorado's history have raged this year and two of them are still growing.
The largest, the Cameron Peak Fire, has scorched more than 206,000 acres (83,360 hectares), according to the fire-reporting site InciWeb, and as of Friday morning it was 57 percent contained.
Eleven miles to the south, the second biggest blaze on record, the East Troublesome Fire, has charred a total of 170,000 acres (68,797 hectares), and crews have carved containment lines around just 5% of the perimeter.
Cooler weather and calmer winds overnight slowed the growth of the Troublesome fire, but winds are expected to pick up in the afternoon, incident commander Noel Livingston said at a Friday morning briefing
Flames jumped the Continental Divide on Thursday, forcing the closure of the 415-square-mile (1,075-square-km) Rocky Mountain National Park.
The fire prompted Grand County officials to order the evacuations of several mountain towns. Sheriff Brett Schroetlin could not confirm any fatalities.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis met with evacuees and fire managers as he toured the area on Friday.
Most of Colorado is in the grip of some level of drought, according to information released on Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
An Arctic air mass forecast to move into the region late Saturday night or early Sunday could drop up to 10 inches (25 cm) of snow. The precipitation will help fire suppression efforts, said Evan Direnzo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, Colorado.
"It won’t bring an end to the incidents, but it might buy them (firefighters) a little time," Direnzo said.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jonathan Oatis)