The High Park Fire, burning just 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colo., expanded to 54,230 acres Friday night despite the best efforts of an additional 146 personnel on scene, bringing the total to a staggering 1,533 firefighters battling the blaze. Officials estimate the fire is now 20 percent contained, and the official tally of homes lost is 112.
While the homes-lost figure seems high, "the last few days, structure protection has been successful. We have not lost additional homes," said Larimer County sheriff's executive officer Nick Christensen to the Denver Post. "Structure protection came after life-safety, so we lost a lot of homes in the first few days of the fire."
According to 9News, the fire's southwest portion received a small amount of rain Friday, aiding crews somewhat. Still, officials remain concerned downdrafts from storms could actually help spread the fire more.
On Thursday night fire embers jumped Highway 14 and started a 60-100 acre fire on the north side of Poudre Canyon near Steven's Gulch. Officials said that a late afternoon thunderstorm cell parked over the southwest corner of the fire and downdrafts from the storm caused an increase in fire behavior, launching embers into the wind and starting the spot fire, according to InciWeb.org.
At approximately 5 p.m. Thursday fire officials ordered the evacuations of 80 residences along Many Thunders Road and south into the 12th Filing of Glacer View. The area includes:
- Meadow Mountain Drive
- Little Bald Mountain Court
- Grey's Peak Court, Diamond Peak Court
- Little Twins Court
- Red Mountain Court
- Pingree Hill Court
- Rabbit Ears Court
- Bullrock Court
- Black Mountain Court
Then around 11 p.m., due to the spot fire in the area, officials ordered 200 more evacuations for the 9th filing of Glacier View, including the area east from Eiger Road to Rams Horn Mountain Road and north from the Mount Blanc Guardian Peak area to the north end of Mount Everest Drive.
The Denver Post reports that Thursday afternoon Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a ban on open burning and private use of fireworks in the state due to dry conditions and high fire danger.
Firefighters are working on a 24-hour schedule, with day and night shifts, and on Wednesday night began to consider implementing a backburn -- a controlled burn to reduce the amount of flammable material in an area -- near the western flank of the High Park Fire as it burns through a very dry area containing 70 percent beetle-killed trees.
9News reported Wednesday that smoke plumes from the fire were reaching 34,000 feet -- 10,000 feet higher than the most intense burn of the fire over the weekend.
Evacuees of seven neighborhoods were able to return home on Wednesday, while others learned that their homes had been consumed by the fire, The Denver Post reports.
On the same day that some were able to return home, Larimer County Sheriff's Office sent out 1,023 new pre-evacuation notifications for residents of the large Glacier View subdivision. The pre-evacuation is not an order to leave immediately; rather, residents should be prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice.
"We haven't turned the corner on this, but we have made progress," incident team spokesman Steve Segin told The Denver Post on Wednesday. "Once you start building lines, you start connecting the dots. Dot to dot to dot."
However, the fire remains active and growth potential is still listed as "extreme," according to InciWeb.org. The wildfire, believed to have been started by lightning, has been very aggressive -- at times, firefighters have seen flames rise as high as 300 feet and move as fast as 20-40 feet per minute.
Conditions have improved over the weekend according to fire officials and there is hope that firefighters can continue to make progress. "The tone has really changed, I feel like we got a chance to make some yardage," Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said in a media briefing on Tuesday. "We're actually playing a game now, we're actually opponents on the field, before we were just losing ground."
No matter what though, the fire's size and scope means a long road to full control, as The Denver Post's Jeremy Meyer tweeted Tuesday:
Fire control -- not simply containment -- means that the fire is out, that it no longer smolders and feels hot to the touch.
(SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATED EVACUATION ORDERS)
On Tuesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper declared the site a disaster and received a phone call from President Barack Obama who assured Hickenlooper that the federal government stood ready to provide personnel, equipment and emergency grants to help battle the fire, according to The Associated Press.
Officials have confirmed that there has been one death due to the High Park Fire, The Coloradoan reported. Officials believe they found the remains of 62-year-old Linda Stedman at her house on Old Flowers Road.
Stedman reportedly received two fire notification calls and when a deputy personally went to her residence to warn her, he was pushed back by flames that were already consuming the house, according to 9News.
The family issued a statement about Stedman that was read by Sheriff Smith on Monday night, 7News released part of that statement:
Linda Steadman, mother, grandmother, sister and wife perished in the cabin she loved. As you can imagine, this is a difficult time for the Steadman family, and they ask that they are allowed time to grieve privately. The entire Steadman Family would like to commend all the firefighters and emergency personnel dedicated to saving lives and property.
Sheriff Smith has said that the firefighters are doing everything they can to battle the blaze with the support of several air tankers and helicopters -- dozens of air tankers, helicopters and helitankers and fire engines are on the scene and further resources have been ordered, according to InciWeb.org.
"This is the fire a lot of folks in Larimer County have always been worried about," Gov. John Hickenlooper said after touring the scene of the fire, The Denver Post reports. "We are throwing everything at it we can." Gov. Hickenlooper signed an executive order requesting National Guard support for fire relief efforts.
During a Sunday media briefing, Smith echoed Hickenlooper's sentiments saying that this fire has been burning through multiple areas of Roosevelt National Forest that authorities have been concerned about for the past two decades.
About 2,625 emergency notifications have gone out to residents and businesses within a five to 15-mile radius of the nearly 81-square-mile fire.
InciWeb.org has the latest pre-evacuation and evacuation orders for the following areas:
New pre-evacuation alerts have been sent to residents in the Glacier View area to include the following area:
- All of Glacier View (including the area north of County Road 74E), AND
- The area south of County Road 74E between Hewlett Gulch Road to the east and County Road 68C to the west and Hwy 14 to the south
- This is a pre-evacuation notice only, which is an alert to resident to be prepared and be alert. Fire behavior is increasing along the NW portion of the fire and firefighters may use some back burning if necessary to help manage the spread of fire. When this burning takes place it will create considerable smoke.
- Evacuations have been lifted for residents in the Shoreline Drive area from north of County Road 38E from the west side of the reservoir to just east of County Road 25E. Residents will need to provide identification with proof of address in order to receive credentials allowing them into the area. These credentials can be obtained at the road block or at The Ranch. One form may be filled out to gain access for multiple vehicles, however, do not show up at road blocks expecting to gain access to property without proper credentials. Evacuations also have been lifted for residents of the Bellvue area from County Road 27E to the east, excluding Brianna Lane and Suri Trail. This area does not have a road block. Credentials are not necessary to access these roads.Evacuation orders remain in place for the following areas:
- Pingree Park Road, Hourglass and Comanche reservoirs, east on Buckhorn Road up to and including Pennock Pass, NE to junction with Stove Prairie and Hwy 14; West to junction with Highway 15 and Pingree Park Road
- North of County Road 38E, from Horsetooth Reservoir to Redstone Canyon to Lory State park.
- Bonner Peaks subdivision.
- County Road 44H (Buckhorn Road) from County Road 27 to Pennock Pass and residents to the south approximately 3/4-1 mile.
- CR27E to Bellvue.
- Areas south and west of Bellvue to include the Lory State Park area, the Redstone Canyon area and Buckhorn Road up to the Stove Prairie School.
- Poudre Canyon from MM111 to MM118 on Highway 14. This means Poudre Canyon from Stove Prairie to MM118 is under mandatory evacuations.
- The area between CR27E and Stove Prairie Road and south through the entire Rist Canyon area including Davis Ranch Road, Whale Rock Road.
- South on CR44H 3 miles to just north of Stringtown Gulch Road Paradise Park Road, Moose Horn Lane, Magic Lane and Spencer Mountain Road.
- Old Flowers Road from Stove Prairie Road to the 8000-block of Old Flowers Road.
- Stove Prairie Road north along County Road 27 to Highway 14, east along Highway 14 to approximately mile marker 111, southeast to Rist Canyon Fire Station 1, then back west to to include Wilderness Ridge Way, Rist Creek Road, Spring Valley Road and County Road 41 and all of the roads that run off of it.
- Hewlitt Gulch, King's Canyon area and Boyd Gulch Road.
To put the size of the fire into perspective -- at more than 52,000 acres, the fire is almost as large as both the cities of Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado combined.
For the latest official maps of the fire, updates on closed roads and evacuations visit InciWeb.org.
LOOK: Photos, video from the High Park Fire below.