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Day One: One fatality; homes lost in Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County

11:12 PM, Mar 26, 2012   |    comments
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The fatality is being investigated by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, but no other information is being released at this time.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jacki Kelley says the Lower North Fork Fire is now more than 3,000 acres. She told 9NEWS "at least a handful of homes" were lost to the flames.

The homes lost are in the Kuester Road area, but officials do not yet have a confirmed number on how many have burned. 

Fire crews will be out all night focusing on structure protection, says Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.

The fire is burning out of control southeast of Aspen Park and is one of several that broke out on Monday afternoon as high wind gusts swept over the Front Range. 

As of 11:30 p.m. Monday, fire officials say the fire is spotting a half to one mile ahead of the fire. They say this means the fire is still active and moving.

More resources are being brought in overnight to help fight the fire. About 100 firefighters were already on scene Monday night. A Type 1 Incident Management Team has been ordered and should be at the fire in the next day or two. 

Jefferson County Sheriff's Department says air support has been ordered as well, but the winds will determine if air support can be used or not. They say Tuesday's fire behavior will be erratic due to "swift and shifting winds."

The fire is burning in an area near Conifer on Buffalo Creek Road near Foxton and River roads. Officials say the fire is burning on the ground with some fire in the trees.

Kelley says 900 homes were evacuated because of the fire. The evacuation area is north and east of the fire. More people may still be evacuated.

The evacuated subdivisions include Oehlman Park and Conifer Meadows north of Foxton Road.

Authorities said on Monday night, that residents living south of Highway 285 in the area of the Lower North Fork Fire were asked to be prepared to evacuate.

Evacuated residents were asked to go to Chatfield and Conifer High Schools. The American Red Cross was helping the evacuated residents.

"It's looking bad, it's horrible," Melinda Liverant, an area resident, said. "My heart skipped a beat when I first saw it because it's so close."

Liverant lives in the Pleasant Park area and helped ponies get evacuated on Monday afternoon.

"It's scary. When you've got horses and live stock it's a scary situation," she said.

"It was pretty crazy," Kevin Houle said.

As soon as he got the order to evacuate, he grabbed his things and got out of there.

"Yeah a little nervous, never experienced anything like it. Asked my neighbor who's been there for 10 years and he said that's the first time it's been that close to him," Houle said.

Houle and Liverant were among the many who gathered at Conifer High School Monday night.

Jefferson County Sheriff Department reports there are 90 people and 60 dogs at the Conifer High School Shelter. They say the shelter at Chatfield High School is, "functioning as an information clearing house, but is also available for sheltering evacuees."

Smoke from the fire is visible from Denver.

Four people were trapped by the fire at one point, but the sheriff's office says they got out OK and were not injured.

Kelley says 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.

Large animals evacuated due to the fire can be taken to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Anyone who needs help with the evacuations can call 303-277-0211.

Elk Creek and North Fork Fire Departments responded early on and no air support was called because of the winds. The U.S. Forest Service sent two hand crews to help fight the fire.

The fire started burning on Denver Water Board land.

Because of the fire, South Foxton Road is closed from Reynolds Ranch south to the river. Forest Road 550 is also closed to Buffalo Creek. Pleasant Park Road is closed from Highway 285 to Deer Creek Canyon.

At least 15 fire departments have responded to the fire. FEMA funds were approved to help fight the fire on Monday night.

Because of the Lower North Fork Fire, the metro area is under an air quality advisory due to the smoke in the air.

Authorities say if visibility is less than 5 miles in smoke in your neighborhood due to a wildfire or controlled burn, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy. If smoke is thick or becomes thick in your neighborhood it's recommended you stay indoors. This is especially important for people with heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young, and the elderly.

Sawmill Gulch Fire

Kelley says another fire in Jefferson County, the Sawmill Gulch Fire, was burning in trees on Lookout Mountain. The fire was on Grapevine south I-70 at Sawmill Gulch.

Foothills Fire spokesman Adam Goldman says the fire is 30 to 50 acres and started just before 3:30 p.m.

They do not know what caused it and two residents were asked to evacuated, but one of them refused to do so.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office reported on Monday night the fire was fully under control. Fire crews planned to go back to the scene on Tuesday morning to check for any hot spots.

Larimer County fire

In Larimer County, crews responded to a fire in the 1700 block of Palisade Mountain Drive.

The fire is on Storm Mountain west of Loveland and can be seen from Fort Collins. It has burned about 3 acres and no additional resources have been ordered. The fire is 50 percent contained.

The cause is still under investigation.

Boulder and Weld County fires

The Mountain View Fire Department was fighting five separate fires in Weld and Boulder counties on Monday afternoon.

One was a barn fire at Highway 52 and County Line Road in Weld County. Mountain View says the fire did about $2,500 worth of damage to the barn.

Another fire was at Highway 287 and Plateau in Boulder County. Authorities say it was a controlled burn on an illegal flag day. They are not concerned about it at this time and will put it out when resources are available.

Authorities only had the locations of the three other fires: One was along Highway 66 in Weld County, another was at Weld County Roads 7 and 18 and the other was at County Line Road and Weld County Road 18.

Morgan County fires

Several other fires broke out in Morgan County, according to the Wiggins Fire Department. Firefighters battled several fires keeping the Wiggins, Fort Morgan and Brush Fire Departments busy.

Wiggins Fire responded to a haystack fire near Interstate 76 at mile marker 64.

Fire near Keystone

In the high country, Lake Dillon Fire responded to a fire 3 miles east of Keystone on Montezuma Road. The fire broke out in River Mountain Valley and there is no word on the cause.

Authorities say it was windy in the area and while there is snow on the ground, the south-facing slopes are dried out.

The Summit County Wildfire Task Force and several other fire agencies also responded.

Wind conditions

The combination of dry, warm and gusty conditions forecast for Monday have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a RED FLAG WARNING that expired at 9 p.m.

9NEWS Chief Meteorologist Kathy Sabine says the winds will dissipate overnight.

Wind gusts up to 50 mph were recorded in Denver.


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