The remains of Sam Lamar Lucas, 77, and his wife Linda M. Lucas, 76, were found inside a home in the fire area. Authorities say one of them was found outside the home and another was found inside the home.
The causes of death are being investigated by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. No other information is being released at this time.
An unidentified woman was reported missing on Monday. No description of the missing woman has been provided. Police say the person is missing in the area of Kuehster Road. Authorities say a search team made up of 32 persons and six search canines searched Wednesday for her remains. The search included the woman's home, which was destroyed by the fire, and 60 acres surrounding the woman's home.
The fire has damaged or destroyed 27 homes, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jackie Kelley. Jefferson County patrol units are starting police escorts into those homes. This only applies to the homeowners whose structures we have confirmed have been damaged.
The blaze has consumed 4,140 acres, and authorities say the fire is 15 percent contained. Previously, it was reported that 4,500 acres were burned, but that was an estimate. The 4,140 acres is a more accurate depiction.
The fire line is about 8.5 miles long, and Kelley says they don't expect the fire to grow much over the next 24 hours because of the favorable weather conditions.
During the peak of the fire on Monday, authorities say the fire was burning at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and scorched four square miles in two hours.
It's believed the fire started from the Colorado State Forest Service prescribed burn that was set last week.
The Colorado State Forest Service issued an apology in the wake of the fire on Wednesday:
"One of the primary roles of the Colorado State Forest Service is to help keep forests healthy and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires through fuel reduction. Prescribed fires are a well established tool in this effort, with many measures in place to make this tool as safe as possible. This is heartbreaking, and we are sorry: despite the best efforts of the Colorado State Forest Service to prevent this very kind of tragic wildfire, we now join Colorado in hoping for the safety of those fighting a large fire, and mourning the loss of life and property," Deputy State Forester Joe Duda said.
Duda says an independent panel is conducting a review of the prescribed burn that was started in the area on March 19. He says the fire was in the fourth day of mop-up when blowing embers were carried across the containment line. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is looking into the circumstances involving the origin of the fire.
READ THE FULL APOLOGY
"Our heartfelt sorrow goes out to anybody who loses loved ones. I don't know if we have the adequate words to express our sympathy for the families," Duda said during a news conference on Wednesday.
About 900 homes have been evacuated since the fire began. Kelley says the 900 homes evacuated are north and east of the fire. The currently evacuated subdivisions include Oehlman Park and Conifer Meadows north of Foxton Road.
"The priority has been structure protection, and if we have to chose between fighting the fire and taking care of homes, that's what we're going to continue to do, and that's what we had to do a lot [on Tuesday,]" Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jacki Kelley said.
9NEWS crews were able to go behind the fire lines on Wednesday to look at some of the damage caused by the flames.
"As the fire crested the hill, we believe the winds exceeded 80 miles an hour, pushing the fire 30 to 50 miles an hour through this area creating a scene of utter devastation," Dan Hatlestad with the Jefferson County Incident Management Team said.
He says many people were evacuating as the fire was already sweeping over the area.
"The smoke was black, thick and choking. Many of the people had a very difficult time finding their way from their driveways to the road and evacuating the area," Hatlestad said. "We don't know how much time each individual family had to leave the area, but at 50 miles an hour it doesn't leave much time to move to your vehicle and get out."
During the Wednesday afternoon news briefing, an angry Jefferson County resident demanded answers about the prescribed burn.
"Would you have done a prescribed burn in your neighborhood knowing it was one of the driest months in Colorado history, knowing it would be windy four days later and no signs of rain for the next three weeks. Would you have done it by your house?" Glenn Davis of Conifer asked. "I need accountability, my friends need accountability. What signs do I have and everyone else has, that the independent review board will be truly independent and that there will be changes going forward on assessing prescribed burns in the future?"
He says he's watched frightened friends evacuate and his home town scarred.
"I do want to know going forward if we can make changes to see if we can change the way we do prescribed burns, especially in a populated area in Colorado," Davis told 9NEWS.
Duda told him the purpose of the review panel is to look into what was considered before the prescribed burn was set.
Fire crews were out Monday night and all day Tuesday focusing on structure protection. More resources were brought in Monday night to help fight the fire, and a Type I Incident Command team arrived Wednesday morning. Kelley says the team is the same one used to fight the Fourmile Canyon Fire in September 2010.
Kelley says about 500 firefighters from across the country are currently fighting the blaze.
"We have over 500 firefighers now and that's what we need to have a real impact and do the good work that needs to be done and get people back home," she said on Wednesday.
Air support planes were able to continue making slurry drops on the blaze on Wednesday. A SEAT and a heavy P2V airplane dropped 4,100 gallons of fire retardant over the fire on Wednesday. Three National Guard helicopters from Buckley Air Force Base dropped water also, along with another helicopter.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office says 49,000 gallons of water have been dumped on the fire via the Colorado National Guard Blackhawk helicopters.
The two Heavy Tanker planes were pulled off the Lower North Fork Fire on Wednesday to respond to fires in South Dakota. The Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) is still available to dump fire retardant on Thursday.
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.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office created an interactive Google map of the fire perimeter and evacuation area.
View Lower North Fork Wildfire in a larger map
West Jefferson Middle School is being used as the evacuation center, and the firefighter command center moved into Conifer High School on Tuesday.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Dispatch sent out a pre-evacuation notice to 6,500 homes Tuesday - located in regions north of the existing evacuation area:
- Dear Creek Mesa
- Deer Creek Canyon Park
- Homewood Park
- Hilldale Pines
- South Murphy Gulch Road
- Watson Gulch Road
- South East of S. Turkey Creek Rd
- White Deer Valley
- Jennings Road
The pre-evacuation orders were still in effect on Wednesday. Kelley says officials will assess the evacuation orders already in place and determine if any evacuees will be allowed back home.
Kelley says lots of animals were left behind when their owners evacuated.
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.
CenturyLink and IREA were given access to the fire zone on Wednesday to evaluate utility damages. IREA said Wednesday night that 267 structures are without power. The company also says it will have to rebuild 2 to 3 miles of electric line.
Gov. John Hickenlooper was on a trip to Mexico when the fire broke out. He arrived back at Denver International Airport on Wednesday night and plans to tour the fire area on Thursday.
"This is one of the most serious fires we've had," Hickenlooper said when he arrived at DIA. "It's horrendous."
The governor suspended the use of prescribed burns by state agencies on state lands in Colorado on Wednesday in the wake of the fire.
"These [prescribed burns] are done to limit damage from fires," Hickenlooper said at DIA when asked about the Lower North Fork Fire's cause. "I think the goal was to get out ahead of this and that incredibly high wind came up and the fire got away from them. It wasn't something anyone intended - it wasn't someone trying to cause trouble or taking an unreasonable risk, at least that seems to be the preliminary assessment. Let's wait and get all the facts."
"The loss of life and property this week is devastating and this fire is far from being contained. That's why our top priority remains working to control the blaze," Hickenlooper said earlier in a statement Wednesday. "We have made every resource available to firefighters and continue to coordinate the response with local and federal authorities.
"Our state's firefighters are doing very challenging work, often in the face of severe conditions and at great risk to their own safety. A complete and independent review into the cause will take place. There will be plenty of time to review what happened. Until then, we urge everyone to support the firefighting efforts and keep those directly affected by the fire in your thoughts and prayers."
FEMA funds were approved to help fight the fire on Monday night.
Due to 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.
United Way Denver is accepting donations to help victims of the fire. More information can be found at www.unitedwaydenver.org or by calling 211.
If you want to volunteer or make a donation, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office asks that you go to www.HelpColoradoNow.org, or call 866-760-6489. They say the best way to help for now is to provide a financial donation.
Smoke from the fire was visible from Denver on Monday.
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.
Because of the high risk of fire, the following counties and cities have burn bans in effect:
- Unincorporated Arapahoe County (Includes Cherry Creek State Park and Centennial)
- Boulder County
- Denver Mountain Parks
An open-burn ban generally prohibits the following: outdoor fire, including, but not limited to: campfires; warming fires; fires in outdoor wood-burning stoves (chimney sparks); and the prescribed burning of fence lines, fence rows, fields, farmlands, rangelands, wildlands, trash or debris, chimineas (outdoor clay fireplaces) and fireworks.
The restrictions and allowances differ for each area. For more information on a burn ban in your area, contact your local authorities.
To sign up for emergency notification calls, visit: http://your911.net.
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