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South Fork fire forces 1,500 people to evacuate

South Fork fire: More than 600 fire fighters are battling the Colorado wildfire, and their efforts remained focused on protecting South Fork. So far, no homes have been lost.

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Colorado State Patrol officer Jessie Bartunek at a checkpoint near South Fork, Colo., Sunday, June 23, 2013. A large wildfire in southern Colorado continues to be driven by winds and fueled by dead trees in a drought-stricken area, authorities said Sunday.

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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Tourists and business owners forced to flee a popular summer retreat in the southwestern Colorado mountains resigned themselves to a long wait as fire officials declined to speculate when they might be able to reign in an unprecedented and erratic blaze raging through the Rio Grande National Forest.

The South Fork fire more than doubled in size over the weekend, growing to an estimated 114 miles by Sunday night, authorities said.

And heavy winds fanning drought-stricken, beetle-killed forest showed no signs of relenting before Tuesday, fire officials said.

"They just said they had no idea how long it would be before we could back in South Fork," said Mike Duffy, who owns the South Fork Lodge.

Duffy said he and his wife, Mary, were able to get their personal possessions before fleeing fast-advancing flames that officials on Friday feared would overtake the town. But with the fire still within three miles of South Fork, they are worried about the long-term impact of a prolong evacuation and news reports about the massive blaze threatening the tourism-dependent town.

Summer visitors include many retirees from Texas and Oklahoma who come to the mountains to flee the heat.

"Here we are the 23rd of June. We had to tell people not to come because we are not there," Duffy said. "I just don't how much more of an affect it will have. Everyone's bottom line is going to get tagged by this. ... You still have to pay your property taxes whether you make money or not."

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