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Larimer Sheriff Lifts All Evacuation Orders For Cameron Peak, East Troublesome Fires

Jerilee Bennett
The Gazette
A stone chimney and some rubble is all that’s left of a home in the Sun Valley subdivision near Grand Lake, Colorado on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. The East Troublesome Fire was substantially slowed down last week after quickly becoming one of the largest wildfires in Colorado history overnight.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office lifted evacuation orders near Colorado’s two largest active wildfires on Monday, ending weeks of uncertainty for many residents about when they could return home.

The reversal applied immediately to all homeowners and businesses within evacuation zones, according to an emergency notification from the sheriff’s office.

“Thank you for your cooperation during this large-scale event,” the message read.

The announcement came after more than a week of reduced fire activity in the state, thanks to snow and cooler temperatures. On Monday, the Cameron Peak Fire was listed as 85% contained. The East Troublesome Fire was still only 37% contained.

During a Facebook update from the fires’ Larimer County-based response team, Kale Casey, a public information officer, said the decision was “great news” for the more than 600 people who were still waiting to return home.

“It’s been a long, long, long road to get to this day,” Casey said.

Casey also reminded those returning home to be cautious. Dead and fire-weakened trees can fall months after a fire stops burning, he said. Downed power lines are also dangerous, he added.

“It’s going to look different and there are going to be different challenges,” Casey said. “Be careful.”

Residents celebrated the decision. Some had been forced out of their homes for weeks.

“Clear blue skies in NoCo!” one tweeted. “Happy happy!!”

The Cameron Peak Fire ignited in a remote area of Larimer County in mid-August. By October, fueled by drought and strong winds, it grew to become the state’s largest wildfire on record. On Monday, its size was listed as 208,913 acres.

Throughout its lifetime, the fire has forced thousands of residents from communities as far north as Red Feather Lakes to evacuate their homes. In late October, growth along its southeastern edge forced residents of communities northeast of Estes Park and west of Loveland to flee.

The Red Cross sheltered many in local hotels. In a post on Facebook, the charity said it would keep resource centers open even though evacuations had been lifted.

“While there are many people who are headed home, there are still many people who are waiting to hear word about their homes,” said Melissa Venable, executive director of the Red Cross’ Colorado chapter. “Our hearts and thoughts are with them.”

The Larimer Sheriff’s decision to lift evacuation orders on Monday also applied to communities affected by a small section of the East Troublesome Fire that crossed the Continental Divide late last month.

Rocky Mountain National Park and the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest remained closed to visitors.

Farther west, portions of Grand County remained under evacuation orders due to the East Troublesome Fire.

On Sunday, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin released an initial damage tally on Facebook. More than 300 homes burned as the fire swept through part of the community last month, he said. An additional 100-200 structures, such as barns and garages, also burned, according to the update.

“Everywhere you turn someone’s life was turned upside down,” Schroetlin wrote about the devastation. “Each one of these numbers is a friend, family, co-worker, or neighbor with a loss; it is truly unimaginable!”

Schroetlin said he expected to lift more evacuations orders this week as conditions improved.

“We will get these areas back open as soon as we possibly can,” he wrote.