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Authorities ordered mandatory evacuations yesterday of dozens of homes close to the Hewlett Fire burning in northern Colorado, even going door-to-door to warn residents of the impending danger. Residents of 80 homes in the area a short drive from Fort Collins had been instructed previously to be ready to leave on short notice. The fire has grown from 1.5 square miles to 8 square miles since Wednesday as erratic wind gusts have helped fan the flames. About 400 firefighters are currently working to contain the blaze. Their efforts are being supported by a heavy air tanker and helicopters that are dropping thousands of gallons of fire retardant and water on the flames. Officials believe that human activity started the blaze, which was first reported on Monday, but the investigation into the cause of the blaze is continuing. The fire was one of several burning in the west yesterday.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s conservation vision for the San Luis Valley will start slowly and be dependent on whether or not congress is in a giving mood. Salazar announced in January that he intends to establish 300,000 acres of conservation easements with willing landowners in a 9 county area that stretches from the Rio Grande’s headwaters, across the valley floor and into two New Mexico counties. Officials with the fish and wildlife service toured the valley this week and gave locals a look at the fine print of the easement strategy, which will begin in the southern Sangre De Cristo Mountains. The mountains provide important migration corridors for big game and the endangered Canada Lynx, while sagebrush in the area is home to rare birds like the Sage Thrasher. However, none of the federal easements will happen until congress appropriates money from the land and water conservation fund specifically for the valley easements. Moreover, the service will also have to finalize easement contract language around the protection of water, an issue the agency’s easements have not addressed in the past.

Improving reading among very young children to set them on the path to a lifetime of learning is the aim of a bill that Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law yesterday. The bill, HB1238, was sponsored by Representative Tom Massey of Poncha Springs. Hickenlooper said that Colorado falls short of expectations for preparing children to be literate in the early grades and even before they begin formal education. To remedy that, the law institutes assessments to detect reading problems early individualized intervention plans to address them and engages parents in discussions around students’ academic progress and possible retention. Hickenlooper also signed an education law sponsored by Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo yesterday. Under HB1146, high school dropouts and students at risk of dropping out can earn diplomas in community college classrooms, while making progress towards associate degrees.

Former Colorado State Trooper Ben Nicholson, 36, is being held in the Alamosa County Jail for allegedly assaulting his mother and stepfather at the Mosca home all three shared. Nicholson’s mother, Verna Felmlee, 69, told authorities that her son had pushed her into a China cabinet, punched her in the chest and ribs, then pushed her to the floor, which caused her to break an ankle. Nicholson’s stepfather, Kenneth Felmlee, 71, was also pushed to the ground when he attempted to stop the assault, according to the arrest affidavit. Alamosa County Sheriff Dave Stong said that all three parties lived at the home. Nicholson turned himself into authorities the day after the assault. Nicholson is due back in court on May 30th for a preliminary hearing.

The Alamosa City Council, on a vote of 5 to 2, has decided to eliminate all but the 12th Street free yard waste drop off sites in the city and instead offer city residents an optional weekly curbside yard waste pickup for an additional fee. Councilors had extensively discussed the fate of the yard waste drop off sites during regular meetings and work sessions and the topic ignited further discussion this week. City staff will now formulate an ordinance that reflects the council’s decision. Councilors Josef Lucero and Leland Romero opposed eliminating the green waste drop off sites. Councilors Greg Gillaspie, Charles Griego, Rusty Johnson, Marcia Tuggle and Mayor Kathy Rogers voted for the change. Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin explained that it took a considerable amount of city employees’ time to collect the lawn clippings, branches and other green waste deposited at the free drop off sites around town. It is expected that curbside green waste collection will get started in the next 30 to 45 days.