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High Park fire update: Mishawaka Amphitheatre reopening symbol of blaze's defeat

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Update: The High Park fire near Fort Collins is 100 percent contained, and while it's not officially dead yet, the blaze is no longer the threat it was to life, limb and property.

A symbol of its de facto defeat? The reopening tomorrow of the Mishawaka Amphitheatre, a beloved landmark that managed to survive the ordeal intact.

The Mishawaka Facebook page has been a go-to destination for people wanting to get fire updates, as well as for those concerned about the venerable venue. During the three weeks or so during which the conflagration had its way, the Mish was used as a staging area for crews fighting it, as seen in the photo below:

Many of the firefighters were local, so it's no surprise they took defending the amphitheatre very personally. On June 29, Mish owner Dani Grant was able to return to her pride and joy for the first time in seventeen days, and upon her arrival, she found the following letter: "My heart bursts with gratitude," she wrote in a post accompanying the photo.

That same day, the Mish shared the following pic honoring crew members who fought so hard to ensure that the building would rock again.

That was followed by a shot of flowers blooming outside the building -- an indication of returning life if ever there was one: The encore? Cut to yesterday, when Matt Hoeven, Grant's husband, posted the following:

Mishawaka will reopen for business on July 4 at 10:00 am. Normal summer hours resume Wednesday with the restaurant offering lunch and dinner every day in addition to breakfast on weekends. Mishawaka's concert schedule will resume with a Keller Williams concert on Friday July 13, followed by JJ Grey & Mofro on July 14, The Samples on the 15th and all scheduled concert events for the balance of the season.

At last, some good news. Look below for our previous coverage.

Update, 6:38 a.m. July 2: This weekend brought positive developments regarding the ultra-destructive Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, as well as the news that so many residents of Fort Collins and nearby areas have anticipated -- and which experts recently thought might not take place for weeks: 100 percent containment of the High Park fire.

Which means it's time to take stock, and count the losses.

The greatest loss was the death of Linda Steadman, age 62, who perished in her beloved cabin in the rugged area where the fire got its start. That's followed in short order by the number of homes destroyed: 259 by the current (and likely final) estimate.

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office puts the acreage consumed at a jaw-slackening 87,284. And while the LCSO's latest release again stresses the difference between containment and control (the latter term means the fire is entirely out), concern about re-ignition has lessened to the degree that only 150 personnel remain on the scene -- less than a tenth of the force at its largest. Sheriff's reps point out that this group, which will be based on CSU's Pingree Park campus, will be responsible for patrolling the fire perimeter, mopping up hot spots near the fire's perimeter, conducting fire-line rehabilitation and installing water bars to help prevent erosion -- one of many serious potential after-effects that will be felt for months, if not years, to come.

All evacuations were lifted on Saturday, June 30, and while the meter hasn't stopped running on the costs, the present calculation of $38.4 million is likely to be close to the final sum. But this digit is no doubt low, since the losses in business productivity and more caused by the disruption are likely impossible to calculate.

As of this writing, the fire continues to smolder, and should it spread outside the perimeter, the U.S. Forest Service's InciWeb page acknowledges that "record low live fuel moistures with high temperatures and low relative humidity will promote rapid fire growth." But experts still on the scene will do their damnedest to make sure that doesn't happen -- and their damnedest has been mighty good thus far, despite the horrific losses that will be forever associated with the High Park fire.

Look below to see the latest photos from the U.S. Forest Service, followed by much, but not all, of our previous coverage. Click here to read about the High Park fire from the beginning.

Page down to see more of our High Park fire coverage. Update, 6:40 a.m. June 29: As those living near the Waldo Canyon fire outside Colorado Springs were plunged into terror (347 homes confirmed burned, at least one death), the people who've been suffering through the High Park fire fifteen miles from Fort Collins for three long, exhausting weeks may finally be getting a break. Containment is at 85 percent -- which is not to suggest that the fire is 85 percent out. The federal InciWeb page dedicated to High Park, updated last night, begins not with stats about new acreage consumed (the fire hasn't grown substantially in two days), but with the subject of reintegrating evacuated individuals into their neighborhoods -- a good sign if ever there was one. So, too, are the notes about rains that swept the area yesterday afternoon. The storm didn't dump a great deal of moisture: Amounts varied from .15 inches to a barely measurable trace. Yet every little bit helps. This tone is echoed by the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, which points out in its most recent update that the past 36 hours have marked changes for the better in the fire zone. But while complete containment now seems within reach, the LCSO stresses that control of the fire is still a ways off. It may take "an act of nature such as prolonged rain or snowfall" to fully extinguish the blaze, and islands of fire are expected to burn within the perimeter of the zone for some time to come -- perhaps even months. But fuel that smolders on hillsides, as opposed to racing up them, offers the opportunity for an orderly return to the area for people who've been living out of suitcases and sleeping on couches for the better part of a month. The number of houses destroyed remains at 257. Yesterday evening, a slew of subdivisions accessible by Rist Canyon Road were reopened. They include Pine Acres, Davis Ranch, Rist Canyon, Spring Valley, Whale Rock, Rist Creek, Stratton Park, Tip Top Ranch, Laurence Creek, Paradise Park, Stove Prairie Road from Buckhorn Road to Bent Timber Lane and Old Flowers Road from Stove Prairie Road to its 8000 block. Right now, the acreage consumed is holding steady at 87,284, and 1,125 firefighters are hard at work trying to finalize the perimeter. That's roughly the personnel total toiling today at Waldo Canyon -- another indication that the High Park fire is no longer the fearsome beast it was mere days ago.

Below, see more photos courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, followed by our previous coverage.

Page down to see our previous coverage, including photos and videos. Update, June 28, 6:35 a.m.: For nearly three weeks, the High Park fire outside of Fort Collins has been the highest-profile blaze in Colorado, and arguably the nation as a whole. Given yesterday's startling developments with the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, which consumed an estimated 300 homes-plus and more than doubled in size, that's no longer the case. But even if High Park firefighters finally appear to be gaining the upper hand, they can't rest on their laurels yet. Last night's update on the federal InciWeb page focusing on High Park contains comparatively good news. The acreage consumed or engaged by the blaze stands at 87,284, meaning the fire didn't grow along its perimeter. Neither did the number of homes confirmed destroyed: 257, which stands as the current record for a Colorado wildfire -- although it'll be surpassed by Waldo Canyon once conditions in the Springs allow for a final count. And the containment ratcheted up again, this time to 75 percent. Granted, there have been other positive days since High Park sparked to life earlier this month -- and many of them have been followed by grim setbacks. This time, though, fire managers are confident enough to have started sharing resources with crews fighting other fires in the state. The number of personnel at High Park is down to 1,313, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office notes, and while that's still a veritable army, it's down by about 700 from the largest sum. More good news: At 5 p.m. yesterday, authorities reopened Red Feather Lakes Road and allowed all residents of the Glacier View subdivisions save one to return to the area. The exception: The 12th Filing of Glacier View remains off-limits.

The weather conditions remain a problem, with high temperatures and low humidity forecast, and plenty of fuel is still available. With that in mind, the firefighting force will continue to hold and reinforce the current lines even as they begin mop-up operations in certain areas. Remote-sensing data from helicopters will also be analyzed to locate heat pockets in areas that have not yet been burned. Additionally, hazardous trees are being removed from roadways to allow power companies to restore electricity for residents being reintegrated into the community.

A return to normalcy? Not yet -- but there's hope. Look below to see more photos courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, followed by our previous coverage.

Update, 5:55 a.m. June 27: Other blazes across the state, including the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, became even larger problems yesterday. But the High Park fire outside Fort Collins remains the ongoing disaster against which all others in the state are being measured -- and it's still growing. And while containment is up, from 55 percent to 65 percent, over the past 24 hours, the feds believe total containment is still more than a month away. The federal InciWeb page devoted to High Park estimates that 87,284 acres have been consumed -- an increase of about 4,000 acres in a day. The weather continues to make the work of the 1,805 personnel on the scene more difficult. The Red Flag warning on Tuesday, denoting, hot, windy conditions (marked by occasional dry lightning), marked the sixth consecutive day for the designation.

Forecasters don't expect a sudden deluge of moisture to break the hot spell. The U.S. Forest Service notes that the weather is making live and dead fuels alike available for burning, and shifting wind direction and speed, coupled with thunderstorm gusts, are causing what's described as "active torching in islands" -- meaning pockets of land in the fire zone that somehow have avoided flames thus far. Crown fires in trees continue to take place at all hours.

A mobile sensing helicopter is being used to locate the sort of heat that's capable of turning unburned areas into new concerns. Right now, there are at least seventeen choppers of assorted types on scene, as well as fixed wing support aircraft and available heavy air tankers, with "available" being the operative word. With so many fires breaking out in Colorado, and throughout the west, U.S. Forest Service resources are being stretched in what's likely an unprecedented manner. Meanwhile, the official count of destroyed homes from the Larimer County Sheriff's Office is up again, from 248 to 257. That's more residences than are in plenty of Colorado communities. In more positive news, a few residents who live in the vicinity of Red Feather Lakes Road from CR37 to Maxwell Ranch Road were allowed to return yesterday, as were a batch in the Poudre Park neighborhood along Highway 14 between Manners Lane and Hewlett Gulch Road. And the LCSO hopes for a bigger reintegration in Rist Canyon circa 5 p.m. Thursday, at which point several hundred evacuees should be able to return home, conditions allowing.

Not that folks are under any illusions about a quick resolution to this situation. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that the blaze won't reach 100 percent containment until July 30. Yes, you read right: July 30.

Look below for more new Forest Service photos, followed by our previous coverage.

Page down to see our previous coverage, including photos and videos. Update, 5:45 a.m. June 26: After huge losses of ground and property over the weekend, crews slugging it out with the High Park fire near Fort Collins are currently holding their ground despite conditions just this side of appalling. The engaged acreage isn't rising at the previous rate -- a good thing, given that about 130 square miles have already been burned -- and containment is moving in the right direction again.

Here are the most recent basics, as supplied by the Larimer County Sheriff's Office: 83,262 acres consumed, 55 percent containment, $31.5 million spent thus far -- and the meter's still running. Number of personnel: 1,941, split up among thirteen Type 1 hand crews and twenty Type 2 hand crews, among other groups. Right now, 170 engines, eleven dozers, 24 water tenders, seven Type 1 helicopters, three Type 2 helicopters, nine Type 3 helicopters and five heavy air tankers are at war with the elements -- a significant portion of the equipment designated for fighting wildfires nationwide. That's how big a priority High Park remains.

According to the most recent update to the federal InciWeb page devoted to the disaster (new info was posted nine hours ago at this writing), the new team that took over command of the response on Sunday focused on line construction along the northern border of the fire and a burnout procedure on the west and southwest, where fire-backing consumed more land. Mop-up functions also took place in assorted locations along the blackened frontier -- those where pretty much all the damage that could be done has been already.

Some people whose homes have survived thus far (unlike those living in the confirmed 248 that haven't) are being allowed to return to them, including residents living from Willow Patch Lane and Buckhorn Road south, and from Feverfew Road and CR25E South, including Otter Road and those thoroughfares branching from it. But thousands remain dispersed throughout the area, waiting to go back home, and wondering what they'll find once they're given the all-clear.

Unfortunately, the weather isn't expected to improve as the day goes on. There's a Red Flag warning in effect from noon until 9 p.m., with fears of gusty thunderstorms, winds, very low humidity and, perhaps most frightening of all, dry lightning a possibility. The hot spell that's settled over northern Colorado couldn't be more ill-timed.

Below, see more photos courtesy of the Colorado National Guard, followed by our previous coverage.

Page down to see our previous coverage, including photos and videos. Update, 5:49 a.m. June 25: Friday morning, reps for those battling the High Park fire near Fort Collins expressed concern that dry, hot, windy conditions forecast for the weekend might give the blaze a chance to gain strength and power -- and unfortunately, they couldn't have been more correct. The acreage increased in size, the amount of containment fell, and the number of homes destroyed ballooned to a shocking 248. And that's just the total confirmed. According to the most recent update on the federal InciWeb page devoted to the long-running incident (two-weeks-plus and counting), the fire now stretches over 83,205 acres -- the second-largest in terms of territory in Colorado's history, behind only the Hayman fire ten years ago (north of 138,000 acres). But High Park tops another category: Hayman destroyed "only" 133 homes, just over half the number currently estimated to have been consumed by High Park. Moreover, containment, which had held at 55 percent on Friday morning, has slipped to 45 percent due to the conflagration's enlargement.

A big factor has been the spot fire that bloomed in the Glacier View area -- although the word "spot" in this context seems entirely inadequate, given that it covers an estimated 10,000 acres, or 15.6 square miles, all by itself. It flared on Friday due largely to the presence of dry fuels and winds that gusted to 35 miles per hour. As noted by the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, sprinklers were activated in the area before firefighters were forced to move back by the intensity of the flames.

Meanwhile, a containment line has been built and is being held north of the Poudre River -- not that those manning this perimeter will be able to rest easy. The LCSO points out that "large, unburned interior islands" continue to pose threats to homes on the interior of the fire. Hundreds of residences are still evacuated, and beetle-killed timber on the west and southwest portions of the fire seem poised to keep feeding the blaze in the near term, at least. The plan for today, say the feds, includes strengthening the line on the north, monitoring areas with structures, heavily staffing the southwest lines (the number of firefighters overall is up to 2,037) and "holding on to what we've got."

Look below to see more photos of the fire and the surrounding area, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, followed by our previous coverage.

Click for even more coverage of the High Park fire near Fort Collins.

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