Image: A wildfire burns in Loveland, Colo.
Dawn Madura  /  AP
A wildfire burns in Loveland, Colo. on Sept. 13. Firefighters worked Monday to control a wildfire that destroyed at least two homes in the northern Colorado foothills as authorities said the blaze and another one that burned at least 166 homes were sparked by household fires.
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updated 9/14/2010 5:19:42 PM ET 2010-09-14T21:19:42

Firefighters were trying to gain ground on a wildfire in the northern Colorado foothills Tuesday ahead of strong winds expected to move in, potentially spreading the flames.

The fire, the second major blaze to break out on the Front Range in a week, has burned nearly 1,000 acres, or about 1½ square miles, of tinder-dry grass and trees in steep terrain just west of Loveland.

The fire, which has destroyed two homes, was 20 percent contained. Terry Krasko, a spokesman for the team coordinating more than 400 firefighters, said the containment figure is expected to be higher by the end of the day.

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"The fire's looking very, very good," Krasko said.

Earlier, incident team manager Jim Thomas said the next 36 hours are pivotal for crews to make headway because of the wind in the forecast. Thomas said the fire wasn't moving toward populated areas but gusts of up to 20 mph were possible Tuesday and winds of up to 28 mph were expected Wednesday.

"We're going to go out and pound on it," said Thomas, who also led the fight against a wildfire near Boulder last week that destroyed at least 166 homes.

The northern Colorado fire prompted the evacuation of a four-mile radius, but some residents were being allowed into the evacuation area Tuesday to check on their homes, escorted by sheriff's deputies.

Sheriff's officials said they want the residents to spend only about 30 minutes in their homes before they are escorted out again.

Officials said earlier they expected some people would stay, even if the return was supposed to be temporary. It wasn't clear what deputies would do if anyone resisted leaving.

Authorities don't know exactly how many homes and residents are in the evacuation area. The Red Cross said 76 evacuees have registered with the agency.

Sheriff's investigators believe the fire was started Sunday by two people burning leaves and tree branches at a home. They plan to turn their findings over to prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

Larimer County on Tuesday banned most outdoor fires, outdoor tobacco smoking and fireworks in unincorporated parts of the county. The ban runs through Nov. 1.

The fire near Boulder — which scorched at least 10 square miles and has cost $9.6 million to fight — has been fully contained but firefighters were still working to put out hot spots within the perimeter Tuesday.

Boulder County investigators believe that fire also was human-caused. They say a fire started by a volunteer firefighter in a fire pit was likely reignited by strong winds Sept. 6, even though the firefighter doused it with water and stirred the ashes to put it out.

A decision on whether to file charges in the Boulder fire wasn't expected until early next week, district attorney's spokeswoman Catherine Olguin said.

Olguin said sheriff's investigators have briefed prosecutors but haven't turned over their final report.

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