Crystal fire in Larimer Cty.: 95% contained, 13 homes burned, but what was cause? (VIDEOS)

Update: Finally, the Crystal fire in Larimer County is just about spent. According to the most recent feds' latest report, the containment level is at 95 percent, with some crews moving on and those that remain concentrating on mop-up.

More good news: the number of homes destroyed by the blaze has been decreased from fifteen to thirteen.

Of course, one large question remains: How the hell did the fire start in the first place? Officially, the cause is listed as "under investigation" -- so we don't yet know if Mother Nature or someone far more human was responsible for the initial spark.

Look below to trace the history of the fire, in reverse chronological order, complete with photos, videos and more.

Update, 9:33 a.m. April 8: The Crystal fire in Larimer County is mighty stubborn. One week after it got started, firefighters have finally nudged containment over 50 percent. However, two firefighters were injured yesterday, albeit in relatively modest ways, and conditions forecast for today may again ground air resources intended to help squelch the blaze for good.

Regarding the aforementioned wounds, U.S. Forest Service public information officer John Bustos says one involved stitches and the other pertained to a knee injury. "Neither are life-threatening," Bustos emphasizes. In his view, the fact that these are the first folks hurt despite the challenging terrain firefighters are facing speaks well to the crews' success at "accomplishing our number-one objective, which is firefighter and public safety."

At this writing, the number of acres engaged remains at 3,200, but that could change due to infra-red mapping done overnight. Here's the most recent map of the impacted zone:

The containment boost from 45 percent on Wednesday to 55 percent currently may not seem like much, but Bustos stresses that "we made good progress." Hence, no new evacuations have been ordered, and roads were fully reopened as of 10 a.m. yesterday.

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There had been hope that 100 percent containment might be reached by the end of today, and Bustos says that's still within the realm of possibility. However, the 398 firefighters on the line will be facing lower overall humidity, higher temperatures (the predicted high is 61) and winds that may gust up to 35 miles per hour -- and anything over thirty will ground air resources.

Nonetheless, Bustos remains optimistic that firefighters will soon get the best of the Crystal fire.

Look below to see two new photos of the fire's impact, followed by our previous coverage from throughout this week.

Update, 9:42 a.m. April 7: Most local media organizations reported that the Crystal Fire in Larimer County was 60 percent contained as of last night -- but that's not actually the case. According to the U.S. Forest Service's Reghan Cloudman, who spoke to Westword moments ago, the actual containment is around 45 percent. This lower number calls into doubt the goal of total containment by tomorrow, although such a prospect is still within the realm of possibility.

Cloudman notes that the firefighting team anticipated 60 percent containment by Wednesday's end, "but we wound up pulling firefighters off the line a little early because of the cold, wet conditions. The roads were getting slippery, and we wanted them to be able to take their time getting down safely." Hence, the 45 percent containment at present -- which is "still a lot better than 15 percent," the total from the previous couple of days.

This progress was achieved despite a lack of air resources, which were grounded due to the precip -- and they haven't been cleared to fly yet this morning, either, owing to cloud cover. There are helicopters available should conditions change, however, and the number of professionals assigned to the blaze is up to 475, including support personnel.

Right now, the size of the fire remains stuck at 3,200 acres, and Cloudman emphasizes that "we're still finding hot areas, even though it snowed. So there's definitely still fire along the perimeter." Fortunately, though, all of the evacuees have been back in their homes since 10 a.m. yesterday, and they're expected to be able to stay despite a forecast that calls for higher temperatures and mild winds. Roadblocks remain in place, too, but that may change in the not-too-distant future.

To sum up the situation, the end finally seems in sight.

Look below for a couple of new videos of the fire's aftermath, followed by our coverage throughout the week.

Update, 8:09 a.m. April 6: In our coverage of the Crystal fire in Larimer County yesterday, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman warned of high-wind conditions that could force additional evacuations -- and this scenario came to pass.

At around 6:30 p.m. last night, the following announcement was issued:

Evacuations have been put in place for residents of Moondance Way, Stringtown Gulch, Redtail Way, Ohana Way, Lightning Ridge Way, Deer Path Way, and lower Wildsong Roads at approximately at 6:30 p.m. tonight, due to increased fire activity.

Residents can evacuate to the Red Cross emergency shelter set up at Walt Clark Middle School, located at 2605 Carlyle in Loveland. Emergency personnel are strongly encouraging residents to remain out of the evacuated area until the evacuation is lifted for personal safety and the safety of firefighters. Roads evacuated are closed to all but emergency personnel.

Speaking this morning, Cloudman offers more details.

"South of the fire, 21 residences were evacuated," she notes, "and we had a number evacuated north of the fire, too -- but because those were done door-to-door, I don't have a good estimate on the number."

Meanwhile, the acreage estimate remains at 3,200, but the total shouldn't be seen as static. According to Cloudman, the number of acres engulfed actually shrank during the early portions of the day before winds pushed the total back to where it had been that morning. On top of that, Cloudman adds, air resources were grounded during mid-afternoon as a result of gusts measured in the 30-35 mile per hour range.

Containment remains at 15 percent, too. But in the evacuated areas, "the wind caused the fire to go past the perimeter -- not necessarily a contained perimeter, but where the fire had kind of stopped," she continues. "It went past that point and started to move closer to homes," hastening the evacuations.

Reports this morning are just starting to filter in, so Cloudman doesn't know whether the evacuated homes remain at risk. However, the weather report is more promising. "Before we shut down at around 10 last night, the winds had started to calm down and we had higher relative humidity," she maintains. "And we're expecting cooler temperatures, higher humidity and calmer winds as well as precipitation. In Fort Collins, it's kind of half-snowing, half-drizzling right now, and that should definitely benefit firefighting efforts, allowing firefighters to work on the line without having to respond to those flare-up areas."

In other words, optimism has returned despite a difficult evening.

The federal InciWeb page sports the following map of the fire zone:

In addition, the site offers several new photos from the burn zone. Check them out below, followed by our previous coverage.

Update, 8:09 a.m. April 5: Yesterday, the weather assisted crews struggling to snuff out the Crystal fire in Larimer County -- but Mother Nature may not be in as cooperative a mood today.

A red flag warning is in effect for the area, and U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman notes that aircraft being used to combat the blaze may be grounded if wind gusts grow too fierce.

The number of acres involved is now estimated at 3,200, down from the 4,500 acres figure circulated yesterday; Cloudman says the drop is as a result of more accurate mapping. Moreover, containment is up from 5 percent to 15 percent. According to Cloudman, "that will allow firefighters to dig more lines. But there's still a lot of work to do. It's very slow work."

These efforts may be hampered by the winds, which are predicted to whip around at more than 40 miles per hour at times, as well as lower humidity. These factors led to a reverse 911 call to area residents last night, warning them that if the winds shifted, they'd have to evacuate again. Fortunately, that didn't happen overnight, but there are no guarantees luck will hold today. With conditions in mind, Cloudman says, "firefighters will be focusing on areas with high value assets, like homes," to make sure the number of residences engulfed by flames doesn't go higher than the fifteen already destroyed.

Look below to see new videos of the blaze, including a slideshow of spectacular photographs, followed by our previous coverage. The federal InciWeb page can be accessed by clicking here.

Original item, 8:59 a.m. April 4: Already these spring, we've experienced the Indian Gulch and Burning Tree blazes -- and despite fire bans throughout the area, not to mention yesterday's snow, another conflagration is whipping across thousands of acres: the Crystal fire in Larimer County.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman tells us the latest.

Most recent estimates put the number of acres damaged at 4,500 -- a big leap over the 2,000 acres reported a short time earlier, although Cloudman says the discrepancy has more to do with more accurate mapping than a sudden doubling of fire-engulfed land.

Cloudman adds that while the dusting of snow, supplemented by drizzle and rain, that struck the fire zone "absolutely helped moderate the fire behavior and slow down growth," the precipitation "didn't put the fire out. We've still got hot spots, and the fire is still creeping and moving around." Hence, the level of containment is still listed at 5 percent, even though the conditions "helped give firefighters a little bit of the upper hand," she says -- especially compared to "those terrible winds and warm weather that were in place on April 1 and 2, when the fire started and became entrenched.

Today, Cloudman notes, "we have a heavy helicopter and a Type 2 helicopter that will be available to do bucket drops, and a heavy air tanker available for retardant drops" -- although "that's all weather dependent. And we'll also have a smaller helicopter available to do some reconnaissance, which will help give us more information about the fire, and four more twenty-person crews and additional engines."

They'll be needed, she points out, since "it's very tough terrain. It includes everything from grass to thick, lodgepole pine stands, and it's tough to get lines in front of those. So the firefighters will be focusing on cold trailing --- making sure the fire is out along the perimeter as well as doing line construction."

As of now, evacuations that impacted 336 homes are off, but that could change at any moment if the fire shifts in a dangerous direction, as it did over the weekend, when it destroyed fifteen residences plus numerous out buildings and vehicles, most of them after nightfall.

"We don't typically see fires grow a lot overnight," Cloudman concedes. "Normally, fires just creep and smolder. But with the Crystal fire, we had those really high winds that drove the fire -- and when a fire starts moving like that, it's not even safe to have firefighters in front of it. Public safety is their number one priority, so they focused on getting people safely out of the fire's path." No injuries have been reported.

The current forecast calls for a high temperature of 48 and higher humidity than had been experienced in past days -- all positives. And since warmer temperatures are predicted for later in the week, crews will be doing their best to get the blaze under control as soon as possible

Look below for the fresh update from the federal InciWeb page, followed by several videos of the fire.

InciWeb update, 8:30 a.m. April 4:

Incident Overview

The Crystal Fire is burning approximately 10 miles northwest of Masonville, Colo. A Type 3 Management Team took over management of the fire yesterday morning and a Type 1 Management Team is expected today. Three areas were evacuated - 336 residences -- but have since been allowed to return to the area. It is estimated 15 homes have burned; however, this is an initial assessment. Additionally other outbuildings and vehicles have also burned.

The cooler temperatures and precipitation helped calm the fire yeasterday, but there are still hotspots within the fire perimeter. Five engines patrolled the fire though the night. Firefighters will continue line construction today to increase containment.

Basic Information

Incident Type: Wildfire Cause: Under Investigation Date of Origin: Friday April 01st, 2011 approx. 12:00 AM Location: Approximately 10 miles NW of Masonville, Colo. Incident Commander: Geoff Bell

Current Situation

Total Personnel: 200 Size: 4,500 acres Percent Contained: 5% Fuels Involved: grasses to thick pine stands

Fire Behavior: Fire helped moderate fire behavior today.

Significant Events: Approximately 15 homes have been destroyed, along with a large number of vehicles and outbuildings.


Planned Actions: Five engines patrolled the fire last night. A heavy air tanker is available today, as well as a type 1 and a type 2 helicopter for bucket drops. A type 3 helicopter will also be available for reconnaissance. Crews will be cold trailing and digging line around the fire today.

Terrain Difficulty: Tough terrain with everything from grass to think pine stands.

Remarks: Four 20-person crews have been ordered along with additional engines.

InciWeb update, 7:30 p.m. April 3:

Evacuation Lifted:

Evacuations have been lifted as of 7:30 p.m. tonight. Residents must have some documentation of residence, such as a driver's license, to pass the road block. Areas previously evacuated were the Stringtown Gulch area, Redstone Canyon area, and residents south of Rist Canyon Road, east of Stove Praire Road. A total of 336 residents were evacuated. Residents along Davis Ranch Road were on alert to evacuate. Residents are urged to remain vigilant as fire conditions can change quickly.

More from our News archive: "Indian Gulch fire near Golden: Human-caused, investigation underway (VIDEOS)."

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