Largest wildfire Colorado has ever seen burning now near Fort Collins

A Colorado wildfire, fueled by high winds, grew by more than 22,000 acres Wednesday to become the largest in state history.

The Cameron Peak Fire burning in the mountains east of Fort Collins had grown to 158,300 acres by Wednesday evening, making it the largest wildfire in state history, according to The Denver Post newspaper, which has compiled wildfire information.

No injuries or deaths have been linked to the record-setting blaze, which is 56 percent contained.

The fire was fueled by high winds that began Tuesday night and into Wednesday, with sustained winds of around 30 mph and gusts of around 60 mph, incident meteorologist Aviva Braun said. While it will be breezy the rest of the week, high gusts are not expected.

"The conditions will remain challenging, just not nearly as serious as they were today," she said in a community meeting update that was broadcast online.

Some mandatory evacuations have been ordered, and mandatory evacuation zones for the first time extended to the foothills just west of Fort Collins, but the city was not considered at-risk, The Associated Press reported.

Image: (Bethany Baker / Fort Collins Coloradoan via AP)
Image: (Bethany Baker / Fort Collins Coloradoan via AP)

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said that he understands the difficulties of people being forced to leave their homes.

"We hate to do that to you, however, there's nothing worse than the concern of losing life," Smith said. "And the way these winds were changing today — the ability of this thing to go any direction — that's what was tough."

Smith said some structures were destroyed by fire Wednesday, but officials won't know what those were for some time because the area remains dangerous with downed power lines and trees. Officials will be working to assess and count the number of lost structures as soon as they are able.

The new size of the fire puts it ahead of the second-largest wildfire in state history, which also broke out this year, the Pine Gulch Fire. That fire burned 139,007 acres and was 100 percent contained in September.

The Pine Gulch Fire, sparked by a lightning strike around 18 miles north of Grand Junction in July, became what was then the largest fire in state history when in August it surpassed the 2002 Hayman Fire, fire officials said.

The Cameron Peak Fire started Aug. 13 in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, according to fire officials. A cause is under investigation.

Related: "I thank God I still have the energy," Heriberto Carrillo Sr. said. "I like working outside in the mountains and using a chainsaw."

It has been an explosive wildfire season in the western U.S.

California has seen more than 4.5 million acres burned — with 13 major wildfires across the state still burning Wednesday — and more than 9,000 homes and other structures destroyed, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Thirty-one people in California have died.

Oregon also experienced a wildfire crisis that covered large parts of the state and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Nine people have died in the fires in that state, more than 4,000 homes have been destroyed, and around 1.2 million acres had burned as of Wednesday, according to the state office of emergency management. Seven active fires were still burning in Oregon.