Lower North Fork Fire pics, videos: Nearly contained, Ann Appel remains found?

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.
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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

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