High Park fire update: 85 percent containment, many subdivisions reopened

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Update, 5:48 p.m. June 22: Yesterday in the continuing war against the High Park fire near Fort Collins, crew members and Mother Nature fought each other to draw.

The number of acres burned and containment percentage held steady, at 68,200 and 55 percent respectively. But firefighters aren't complaining, especially given that weather conditions today are expected to be decent. Too bad they may not stay that way.

According to last night's final update of the federal InciWeb page devoted to the incident, which started two weeks ago Saturday, 1,859 firefighters split their focus between maintaining containment lines and using burn-out operations to bring the fire to them, especially in the area south of Poudre Canyon near Mount McConnel. The idea is to hand-torch fuels that have not yet been consumed by the primary blaze, so that by the time the body of the fire reaches that point, there'll be nothing left to feed it. This approach will continue today, with supervisors eager to make as much progress as they can while the temperatures are in the 78 to 85 degree range, as forecast, and relative humidity hovers in the 15 to 20 percent range on the west side of the fire, and slightly higher to the east -- not great, but not terrible.

Nonetheless, a fire weather watch will be in effect throughout the day, and with Front Range temperatures expected to hit triple digits over the weekend, conditions could deteriorate fast. Winds are expected to pick up as the day goes on -- hence a Red Flag warning through 8 p.m. tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office confirms that two more homes were added to the destruction list after a tour of the Whale Rock and Stove Prairie neighborhoods, bringing the total to 191. And although no homes have been lost as a result of burn-out operations, the LCSO is not yet ready to call this sum final.

The Sheriff's Office has established a web page featuring the most current road closures. Reps are also issuing reminders about proper disposal of waste, like this one: "Refrigerators and freezers coming to the landfill need to be emptied of their contents (safety for the technician pumping out the Freon). Freon containing appliances are stored until we get enough to call the technician to pump the Freon (usually once a month). Customers needing to dispose of this material can do this at the landfill, but they need to do this process in a different area (animal burial area) and then take the empty appliance to the appliance area."

Yes, we've gotten to that stage in a fire whose end is still not in sight about half a month after lightning sparked it to life. Look below to see more photos courtesy of the Colorado National Guard, followed by our previous coverage.

Update, 5:51 a.m. June 21: The High Park fire displayed its stubbornness once again yesterday. The media was allowed to inspect previously restricted terrain, and some people were allowed back into their homes -- yet the fire grew by approximately 8,000 acres over the course of the day and the containment percentage remains stuck at 55 percent despite weather conditions that were at least a bit more hospitable than the ones that preceded them.

According to the most recent update on the federal InciWeb page devoted to the incident, the number of acres scorched stands at 68,200 acres, up from just under 60,000 acres at this time yesterday. And while cooler temperatures and higher humidity are said to have allowed firefighters to make progress on containment lines, the west flank of the fire was plenty hot, with crews rushing to torch unburned fuels between Pingree Park Road and the fire's edge in an effort to starve the flames once they arrive at that point. The news from the Larimer County Sheriff's Office was better for many residents in Soldier Canyon and Mill Canyon Estates, much of Hewelett Gulch and Horsetooth, who have been allowed to return to their homes -- although they've been warned to be ready for rapid evacuation should the fire shifts again. As a bonus, some of them will actually have power, but that's not universal.

Meanwhile, the number of homes destroyed held steady at 189, but the LCSO is warning that this total could still rise. So, too, will the cost of battling the flames, which stands at $19.6 million. At present, 1,978 fire personnel and 132 engines are engaged in the mission, as is gear such as five bulldozers and six "feller grabbers," which cut and gather trees not entirely turned to ash.

Today's agenda? According to the U.S. Forest Service, "Continued structure triage and protection on the interior and exterior of the burn area; Continue direct control actions on unburned islands in the interior of the burn; Continued direct, indirect, and burnout actions along the Pingree Park road as the fire advances to the South and Southwest; Reinforce, defend, and patrol existing control lines; Continue to assess the need for evacuations in coordination with local law enforcement."

Look below to see more photos of the fire, followed by our previous coverage.

Page down to see our earlier reporting, including more photos and videos.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts