Update: Hard to look at anything involved with the Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer as good news, especially considering that it appears to have taken three lives: Samuel and Linda Lucas, as well as Ann Appel, the subject of a long search that was called off over the weekend after what are described as "possible human artifacts" were found in her destroyed home. But at least the blaze itself is on the cusp of full containment.
As of the most recent report from authorities last night, containment was estimated at 97 percent, and all evacuation orders will be officially lifted at 8 a.m. this morning. Residents are warned about the risks of returning in this document, but nothing in it should dissuade folks who've been displaced for the better part of a week from finally going home.
What many will find is widespread destruction of the sort explained by the following photos, taken on March 26, when the fire -- apparently caused by a Colorado State Forest Service prescribed burn that got out of control -- was at its fiercest. Beneath them, check out our previous coverage of the fire, complete with many more photos and videos. In the meantime, our condolences to the Appel and Lucas families, as well as to everyone who lost property, pets, livestock and belongings.
Update, 5:43 a.m. March 30: Firefighters appear to be getting the upper hand on the Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer. The size of the blaze zone hasn't grown substantially over the past couple of days, containment is now estimated at 45 percent, and a large number of people who'd been evacuated are now back in their homes. But the news isn't nearly as good for the family and loved ones of Ann Appel, 51, identified as the woman still missing from the area. She still hasn't been found.
Appel is reportedly 51 years old, with two sons, one of whom attends college in California. Her family has released the following statement:
We are urgently searching for Ann, and appreciate your prayers for her safety. We are deeply grateful for all of those helping in the search. Thank you for your concern and for respecting our privacy during this difficult time.
Please continue to pray.
The Appel family
Appel's home has been reduced to rubble. The Jeffco emergency blogspot notes that 219 acres have been explored in the search for her.
Jefferson County has also released the addresses of 25 destroyed buildings; previous estimates had stated that 27 had been destroyed. Here's the list:
1. 17000 Elk Ridge Road
2. 13637 Kuehster Road
3. 13657 Kuehster Road
4. 13801 Kuehster Road
5. 13807 Kuehster Road
6. 14419 Eagle Vista Drive
7. 14409 Eagle Vista Drive
8. 16950 Elk Ridge Road
9. 17020 Elk Ridge Road
10. 17050 Elk Ridge Road
11. 17051 Elk Ridge Road
12. 13647 Kuehster Road
13. 18656 Rocky Top Trail
14. 18516 Rocky Top Trail
15. 18776 Rocky Top Trail
16. 18726 Rocky Top Trail
17. 18006 Rocky Top Trail
18. 13097 Arrowhead Springs Trail
19. 13697 Arrowhead Springs Trail
20. 13707 Arrowhead Springs Trail
21. 17254 Arrowhead Springs Trail
22. 17223 Arrowhead Springs Trail
23. 14141 Broadview Circle
24. 14201 Broadview Circle
25. 17986 Rocky Top Trail
Yesterday, officials say, 3.5 miles of containment line was cut by crews on the scene. The total fire line is estimated to be 8.5 miles, with the acreage holding at 4,140. There was no growth in the fire perimeter, and most of the flames tended to be creeping along the ground.
If weather cooperates this weekend, the end of the Lower North Fork Fire, which appears to have been caused by a prescribed burn, may finally be in sight. But at this writing, the fate of Ann Appel remains a mystery. Meanwhile, memorial services for Samuel and Linda Lucas, the married couple previously ID'd as victims of the blaze, is slated for today at Southern Gables Church in Littleton.
Look below for our earlier coverage.
Update, 6 a.m. March 29: The search for a missing woman in the burn zone of the Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer has been unsuccessful thus far. But in other respects, fire crews made progress yesterday in controlling the blaze, which the Forest Service has now apologized for apparently starting via a prescribed burn that got out of control. It's now 15 percent contained -- a modest fraction, but better than the 0 percent containment of the previous two days.
Late yesterday, Jefferson County released the most detailed map yet of the fire's perimeters, as well as the size of the evacuation sector:
A 500-person-strong crew is being supplemented by two heavy air tankers and four helicopters, three of them Blackhawks that are estimated to have poured 49,000 gallons of water on the fire as of yesterday afternoon. Even though the perimeter of the conflagration hasn't advanced much in the past 24 hours, the folks on the ground still have a massive job, given that the fire line that must be built is estimated at 8.5 miles in length.
Meanwhile, an urban search and rescue team continues to look for the missing woman. The Jeffco emergency blogspot notes that at least sixty acres have been combed thus far, with the focus on her home -- her last known location. That structure has been reduced to rubble, but picking through it has been difficult given the extreme heat.
There's a different kind of heat on the Colorado State Forest Service, whose deputy chief forester, Joe Duda, publicly apologized for the loss of life and property that resulted from the fire, which appears to have been started when winds reinvigorated embers from a prescribed burn that has now been suspended by Governor John Hickenlooper. See a 9News video featuring Duda's comments, followed by the station's profile of Samuel and Linda Lucas, the two confirmed casualties from this destructive fire. That's followed by our earlier coverage.
Update 12:21 p.m. March 28: One woman remains missing in the area of the Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer. While the search for her continues, hundreds of firefighters are battling to prevent the burning of more buildings. At this writing, 27 structures have been destroyed -- something that still hasn't been officially confirmed to many of their owners.
The Jeffco Sheriff's emergency blogspot notes that a team consisting of 32 people and six canines is searching for the woman, who was last known to be at a home that was destroyed inside the fire zone. Given that there have already been two fatalities -- married couple Samuel and Linda Lucas -- officials understand the urgency of locating her.
In the meantime, authorities have adjusted the estimate of buildings destroyed from 28 to 27. As of an update within the hour, only ten of the owners had been contacted. Others are being sought.
Additionally, the burn zone acreage has been revised downward, from 4,500 to 3,790, due mainly to more accurate mapping. Thus far, 900 homes have been evacuated, according to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. But because of the complexity of the blaze, which is in a rugged area that's susceptible to sudden wind flare-ups, folks in the vicinity of Roxborough and Waterton are advised to be at the ready to get out of the area.
Containment remains at 0 percent.
Look below to see the latest photos from Jefferson County, including shots of Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia being briefed on the situation. Then continue reading for our previous coverage.
Page down for earlier coverage, photos and videos. Update, 5:50 a.m. March 28: The Jefferson County coroner has identified the two people found dead in the burn zone of the Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer as Samuel and Linda Lucas, a married couple aged 77 and 76, respectively. Their bodies were inside their home; no cause of death has been determined yet. As for the fire itself, it doesn't appear to have grown substantially, but it remains dangerous. And it appears to have started from a prescribed burn.
As of the final update from last night, delivered at around 8:25 p.m., about 4,500 acres had been consumed. That's an area about the size estimated that morning. And the weather certainly looks to be more cooperative than on Monday, when the blaze, fed by fierce winds, got out of control. The forecast calls for moderate breezes of eight to fourteen miles per hour, with gusts up to twenty, and temperatures above the seventy-degree mark. That should allow the two helicopters, P2V Aircraft and Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) to drop water and fire retardant, as took place yesterday.
In the meantime, the origins of the fire continue to be a subject of serious discussion. Yesterday on Colorado Public Radio, evacuees talked about an allegedly controlled burn taking place in the tinder-dry area, and speculated that it was the root cause. And 9News quotes Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley as saying that "the fire is from a prescribed burn by the Colorado Forest Service that was set last week and 'escaped' about 2 p.m. on Monday."
If that proves accurate, the deaths of Samuel and Linda Lucas will likely be seen as even more tragic.
Look below to see the latest photos from Jefferson County, followed by our earlier coverage:
Update 3:32 p.m. March 27: More and more firefighters are attacking the Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer, but that doesn't mean they've got a handle on the blaze.
Indeed, pre-evacuation notices have been sent to 6,500 homes in the area, so residents will be ready to get out quickly in case the fire takes a sudden and even more destructive turn.
Here's the roster of the areas whose resident received a notice:
Dear Creek Mesa Deer Creek Canyon Park Homewood Park Hilldale Pines South Murphy Gulch Road Watson Gulch Road South East of S. Turkey Creek Rd White Deer Valley Jennings Road
And here's a look at the latest map of the fire, which has consumed more than 4,500 acres thus far:
The land inside the blue line is the original evacuation zone, Jeffco authorities note. As such, the 6,500 homes recently contacted are presumably outside that section. Folks who live there haven't received a mandatory evacuation order yet, but that remains a possibility, especially given the conditions.
Look below for our previous coverage.
Update 1:15 p.m. March 27: The news just keeps getting worse in regard to the Lower North Fork Fire, which continues burning out of control near Conifer.
Now, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the amount of scorched earth has reached 4,500 acres-plus. Even worse, a second body has been found.
The Jeffco blogspot notes that the second fatality was found near the first. Neither of the victims have been identified at this writing, but the working theory is that they were not members of the crews battling the blaze.
At least sixteen structures have burned thus far as well, and a Type 1 incident management team is expected this evening from Montana's Great Basin Area -- an indication that federal authorities will take over management of the response to the conflagration. Also slated to visit the scene: Colorado Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia.
A Single Engine Air Tanker, known by the acryonym SEAT, as well as a P2V airplane and two National Guard helicopters are involved in dropping fire retardant or water on the impacted area. Meanwhile, road closures include, Foxton Road & Running Deer Road, Pleasant Park Road & Oehlmann Park Road, Deer Creek Canyon Road & Maxwell Hill, and South Platte River Road to Foxton Road. In addition, Foxton Road at US Highway 285 has limited access.
Below, see the latest photo provided by Jeffco, followed by our previous coverage.
Page down to see more of our earlier coverage, as well as additional photos and videos of the Lower North Fork Fire. Original post, 10:35 a.m. March 27: Moments ago, I reached Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley, and she was overwhelmed -- understandable given the Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer, which flared up yesterday and is currently burning out of control. In addition, numerous buildings have been damaged and one thus-far-unidentified person has been found dead. Photos and videos below.
Here's the most recent perimeter map issued by Jefferson County, showing the outlines of the blaze as of 11 p.m. last night:
As for the dimensions of the damage, Kelley directed us to the Twitter accounts for Jefferson County and the Sheriff's Office, which are being updated regularly. Here's a tweet about acreage burned and the manpower being dispatched to fight it:
— JeffcoColorado (@JeffcoColorado) March 27, 2012
Regarding air power, there's this:
— JeffcoColorado (@JeffcoColorado) March 27, 2012
...And while we don't know the identity of the person who was found dead, Jeffco officials are pretty sure who he wasn't:
— JeffcoColorado (@JeffcoColorado) March 27, 2012
At this writing, so-called Hot Shot fire crews are en route from Arizona, Utah and South Dakota, and will be deployed along the fire line upon their arrival. The winds are less fierce today than yesterday, which should help, but the conditions are extraordinarily dry, which won't.
Look below to check out a series of Lower North Fork Fire photos courtesy of Flickr photog Shawn Campbell and the Jefferson County emergency blog spot. They're followed by a slew of videos from folks in the area, showing why the entire metro area smells smoky right now.
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