2:54pm

Tue March 27, 2012
Colorado Wildfires

Lower North Fork Fire 90% Contained, Red Flag Warning Issued [Updated]

The Lower North Fork Fire continues to burn southwest of Denver, however officials hope weather conditions allow greater containment of the fire that has burned over 4,000 acres, destroyed more than 20 homes, and taken the lives of two people.

UPDATE 9:59am 3/31/12: The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has just tweeted the Lower North Fork Fire is now 90% contained. 

UPDATE 9:34am 3/31/12: A red flag warning has been issued for areas including the Lower North Fork Fire burn zone beginning at noon and ending at 8pm today. The National Weather Service says winds will begin to increase by noon and continue through Sunday. A red flag warning is issued when low humidity and high wind conditions exist. The Jefferson County Sheriff's office has sent a pre-evacuation notice to 500 residences in near the fire. Read the pre-evacuation notice here.  Officials have released an updated map of open roads in and around the fire zone. According to the map, green highlighted roads are for residents only, orange highlighted roads are closed.

UPDATE 4:15 3/30/12: fighters on the blaze have said there is now 70% containment, as crews get a handle on the Lower North Fork Fire. Rich Harvey with Incident Command says winds do concern crews. 180 homes remain evacuated as fire lines are constructed. Officials say Sunday may be the tough day as red flag conditions may develop.

UPDATE 4:27 3/29/12: 180 homes remain evacuated within the burn zone, however officials say today was a "very good day." There has been no update on containment numbers, however officials say containment should improve this evening. The wind event forecast for Friday night into Saturday is worrying fighters, however incident command says defensive lines are being build, and containment areas are improving. Rich Harvey with incident command says the "boots on the ground" are holding up well, and because this is the first fire of the season they have little built up fatigue. The next citizens briefing will be held at 5pm at the West Jefferson Middle School in Aspen Park. Updated interactive map at bottom of post.

UPDATE 12:50pm: Some residents are now being allowed to return to their homes within the evacuation zone. An updated map shows open roads and evacuation routes. 

County officials announced 12% of the population in the evacuation zone did not receive a reverse 911 call. Earlier reports put that number at 22%. Jacki Kelly with the Jefferson County Sheriffs Office says a computer glitch may have prevented the calls from going out and the system is being evaluated.

“If anyone ever is uncomfortable with the situation they are in. They see smoke they see flames, you do not have to wait for the sheriff’s office to tell you to evacuate. You can leave anytime you feel like it. Don’t wait for us."

The fire remains at 15% containment. However, that number should increase by later this afternoon. Governor Hickenlooper toured the fire zone and spoke to residents displaced by the fire at Conifer High School this afternoon.

UPDATE 7:10am: Because there are unburned fuels in the evacuation zone, groups of fighters are watching for spot fires etc. Jefferson County Sheriffs' officers are also on patrol keeping homes and structures secure and safe. Goal today is to reassess evacuation zone as fighters gain more control over burn zone.

UPDATE 7:07am: "The smoke plume seen on Monday was impressionable." Dan Hatlestad says there is still burning, and smoke is in valleys even though a large smoke plume can not be seen. The issue in containing the fire is the very rough terrain which is making fighting the fire difficult. 

UPDATE 3/29/12 7:02am: Federal Incident Management Team is now managing the fire. Governor John Hickenlooper will visit the burn zone today meeting with fighters and residents. Dan Hatlestad with the Inter-Canyon Mountain Rescue says the fire perimeter remains at 8.5 miles in length, with over 500 fighters on the fire today. Crews working on the fire today are 'fresh' with other fighters resting today to recharge. No timetable for when residents can return home within the evacuation zone, however the goal is to reassess zone soon.  

UPDATE 3/29/12 7:01am: Urban Search and Rescue teams have not located missing woman, will continue search today. Many areas she could have been were searched numerous times. 

UPDATE 4:06pm: Jefferson County Officials say the fire is now 15% contained. Minimal growth may still be seen, but fighters are getting a handle on the fire zone. There may be a re-assessment of evacuation zones later today. 4140 acres now.

UPDATE 11:47am: Fire officials say the fire is now 3790 acres. the earlier 4,500 acre burn area was an estimate. Officials stress the fire size will most likely change through out the day.

UPDATE 11:45am: Jefferson County Sheriff Blog post update. "We have reduced the number of damaged structures from 28 to 27. This change has been made because after further review one of the recorded addresses was not accurate. As of this update we have contacted the owners of 10 of those structures. We are actively working to identify the owners of the additional structures."

UPDATE 10:20am: Jefferson County has issued temporary fire restrictions for the entire county. Building campfires, using fireworks, or smoking (with exceptions) is restricted. KUNC has added an interactive map of the fire and current evacuation areas at the bottom of this post.

UPDATE 8:08am: The Jefferson County Sheriff has asked the public to only donate items that are requested by officials and bring them to the official designated collection centers. Items not needed may go to waste and get in the way of relief efforts

UPDATE 8:00am: Jefferson County Sheriff Spokeswoman Jacki Kelly says while no containment has been made, today will see good weather, and more fighters on the lines. “There will be structure protection if its needed, and we’re going to try to take a bite out of this fire. Start to get a line around it try to get a level of containment, if we have a good day we’ll make a lot of progress”  

UPDATE 7:58am: The Colorado Department of Investigation is looking into the deaths of Sam Lamar Lucas, 77, and his wife Linda M. Lucas, 76. The pair were found in the fire area. Authorities say one of them was found outside the home and another was found inside the home.

UPDATE 7:45am: A local urban search and rescue team is being brought to the burn zone today to search for a woman who remains missing this morning. She was last seen in a mandatory evacuation zone in an area that saw heavy structural damage and home loss.

The Lower North Fork Fire began around 2pm Monday, and was quickly whipped into a major fire forcing the evacuation of over 900 homes in and around Conifer with many more remaining on standby.

A spot fire flared up around 1:30 approximately one mile west of Waterton Canyon, that has put over 6,500 homes on standby for possible evacuation.

The fire has grown to over 4,000 acres, and the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department says 16 structures have been destroyed. There have also been two confirmed deaths within the burn zone, but no additional information has been given on the cause of the deaths.

A handful of residents in the area of the burn have taken refuge on the grounds of Conifer High School.

Daryll Campbell lives off Richmond Hill road, just outside the fire zone. He got the word to evacuate last night around 6pm and left right away. Sitting next to his wife outside the school, Campbell says he’s been through too many fires to wait this one out.

“We were probably one of the first ones out, one of the first ones here, one of the first one downs the hill being a veteran deciding to get a hotel. The fire was down the valley and we could see all the smoke, and when we got the order, we decided to leave, we knew that what typically confusing for days they have no idea what’s going on.”

Kristena Healy’s home was not in the evacuation area, but she went out to resupply her home in case she was blocked out of her home. However, due to restrictions on area roads, she’s was unable to return home.

“I saw the fire, we saw it, and it went down the hill…and it became less and less, and we were fine. But this morning I made the mistake of leaving the house going past the cop cars to the store, and now I can't get back in.”

Healy says she's concerned for her 3 cats who remain in the home alone.

Some Residents have been allowed to return home, including residents of the Oehlman Park Subdivision just northwest of the fire.

Officials hope the addition of an air tanker, as well as helicopters coming from Buckley Air Force Base dropping retardant and water on the fire; allow them to get ahead of the blaze and regain some control.

We will continue to update this report as new information is received.

Current Evacuation Zone: Jefferson County Sheriff Department

Current Blog via Jefferson County

View Lower North Fork Wildfire in a larger map