27 Homes Burned In Lower North Fork Fire
JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — New mapping shows a fire in Jefferson County has burned 4,140 acres and destroyed 27 homes.
Officials with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office began taking people who lost their homes into the burn area to see the damage on Wednesday.
Almost all the homeowners whose homes have been destroyed have been notified. Deputies are hoping to reach the other half, said Jacki Kelley, public information officer for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have had a good day,” said Jacki Kelley, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office PIO. “We have cut fire lines we have started to establish a perimeter.”
Firefighters had managed to gain 15 percent containment by Wednesday afternoon. The estimated size of the fire line that must be built to fully contain the fire is 8.5 miles long.
Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said full containment might not come until Monday.
Kelley said three tankers were flying on Wednesday along with four helicopters. The tankers were dropping retardant to slow the fire and the helicopters will be dropping water to put the fire out.
Kelley said 4,100 gallons of retardant had been dropped on the fire. Helicopters have dropped 49,000 gallons of water on the fire.
The largest air tankers have been pulled from the fire and Fin order to respond to two fires near Custer and Keystone, South Dakota. The smaller single-engine air tanker that has been assigned to the Jefferson County fire will continue to be available.
Woman Missing, 2 People Killed
Kelley said searchers have been looking for a woman reported missing in the fire. On Wednesday, 32 searchers with six dogs started at the woman’s home and then fan out from there.
The woman has not been identified but officials said she lives within the burn zone. They have searched 60 acres around her home for any sign of her.
“We’re not certain,” said Kelley. “We’re looking beyond the home to determine if she ran from the fire. We’re also digging in the home rubble in an effort to find her remains.”
The two people who died in the fire were identified Tuesday as Sam Lucas, 77, and Linda Lucas, 76. The husband and wife were found at their burned-out home at 14409 Eagle Vista Drive, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
A neighbor of the couple, Eddie Schneider, said he doesn’t think the Lucases got the automated evacuation call because he didn’t get one either, unless it came after a firefighter came to his house and told him to leave.
Kelley said she wasn’t aware of residents’ assertions about having no warning, until the assertions were raised at a news conference Wednesday.
900 Homes Evacuated, 6,500 Homes On Standby To Evacuate
Mandatory evacuation notices went to 900 homes on Monday. Those families are still evacuated and officials said Tuesday they could be out of their homes for days.
“We have not allowed anybody who was evacuated back in other than the homeowners whose homes were damaged,” Kelley said. She said anyone who hasn’t been contacted by the sheriff’s office should be aware their home was not burned.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office also alerted an additional 6,500 homes on Tuesday to be prepared to evacuate because of the erratic nature of the fire. That pre-evacuation notice remained in place on Wednesday.
The affected homes on standby for evacuation are north of the existing evacuation area. The pre-evacuation areas include:
- Deer Creek Mesa
- Deer Creek Canyon Park
- Homewood Park
- Hilldale Pines
- South Murphy Gulch Road
- Watson Gulch Road
- southeast of South Turkey Creek Road
- White Deer Valley
- Jennings Road
“We want those 6,500 people to be ready to go,” said Kelley.
She said officials still don’t know when current evacuees will be allowed to return to their homes.
“Depending upon how much progress we make over the next couple of days,” Kelley said. “Maybe we’ll have good news tomorrow. No promises.”
Sheriff Mink later told 7NEWS evacuees might be able to return on Friday, weather conditions permitting.
“What I don’t want to do is give false promises or false hope,” Kelley said. “We know people are anxious to go home.”
The Type 1 Incident Management Team has arrived. The official transition from the Jefferson County type 3 IMT to the type 1 IMT will take place at 6 a.m. Thursday. The type 3 IMT team will continue to work with the Type 1 team after the transition, officials said.
How The Fire Started
On Tuesday, the Colorado State Forest Service admitted to 7NEWS that the Lower North Fork Fire started as a result of a prescribed burn it was conducting late last week.
“Did the Colorado State Forest Service cause the Lower North Fork Fire?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.
“I think the answer to that is the embers came from within the prescribed burn that we conducted,” said Deputy State Forester Joe Duda.
He also addressed reporters at the 4 p.m. media briefing in Conifer.
“We have to look at whether anything went wrong.”
Prescribed burn group was working within working parameters for prescribed burns.
“The area where we saw the embers and the fire crossed the road we had previous patrols in that area and saw no signs of fire in the area.”
He said the Colorado Forest Service had twice the resources that were necessary on the fire.
“We started on last Wednesday and we continued the patrol through to Monday when the wildfire initiated,” he said.
“Our heartfelt sorrow goes to anybody who lost loved ones.”
Last Wednesday, the Colorado Forest Service initiated a prescribed burn on Denver Water Board property. The purpose was to reduce woody fuel from past forest restoration activity.
On Thursday, the Forest Service conducted the main burn of 35 acres.
“On Thursday, the weather conditions, the forecast, all the parameters that are necessary to operate under, looked good so we conducted the prescribed burn,” said Duda.
On Friday, the Forest Service sent crews out to complete mop up and patrol the perimeter.
Those patrols continued through the weekend and on Monday.
On Monday, a fire reignited in the prescribed-burn area.
“In an area, it’s my understanding, where we had patrolled earlier, we noticed that there was some fresh fire activity burning within the containment line,” said Duda. “As the crew moved up to take action, that fire crossed the road into the uncontained area.”
Duda said the crew was in a fire truck and requested additional help.
7NEWS asked the Colorado Forest Service how far in advance are the weather forecasts looked at and what was the weather forecast showing for this prescribed burn?
“Weather forecasts are looked at weeks, even months in advance to find just the right time to do a burn, ,” said Outreach Forester Lisa Mason. “Weather is constantly monitored weeks before the burn. In addition to looking at forecasts, a Remote Automated Weather Station was set up on the day of the burn at the site. Weather reports are given every 15 minutes. In the attachment, you will find the spot weather forecasts for the day of the prescribed burn. Also, note that there were no Red Flags warnings in effect when burning.”
State Liable Only Up To $600,000
Under state law, the Colorado Governmental Immunity Law protects the state and taxpayers from expensive liability. If the state is found to be responsible for the fire, it would only be liable to pay a maximum of $600,000 total for all victims to split. No one person could get more than $150,000.
“For anyone and any claim, for loss of life, loss of property, damage, injury, loss of use, even the cost of fighting the fire, the total amount the state would have to pay capped by law is $600,000,” said attorney Jim Chalat. “The check that would be written would be $600,000. That wouldn’t come anywhere close to paying for the damages.”
View Lower North Fork Fire in a larger map. (Red line: burn zone: Blue line: Mandatory evacuation. Yellow line: Pre-evacuation area..