Fort Collins area wildfire roars up overnight, forcing 300 to flee homes

Fort Collins area wildfire roars up overnight, forcing 300 to flee homes

04 April 2011

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USA — A fire that forced more than 300 residents from their homes in the middle of the night consumed 15 homes and numerous cars, trucks, sheds and barns in the foothills and grasslands of Larimer County, officials said Sunday evening.

The Crystal fire that began Friday near Masonville, west of Fort Collins, consumed more than 4,500 acres in the foothills and grasslands south of Buckhorn Road and east of Stove Prairie Road before rain, snow and calmer winds helped more than 200 firefighters Sunday.

Containment was estimated to be 5 percent.

No one was injured, and the cause of the fire was still under investigation Sunday.

Roads were expected to reopen to residents only at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, and the losses could grow substantially when residents survey their property, said Nick Christen sen, executive officer of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s hard to know what’s what and what’s some other structure,” Christensen said of the burned-out remains. “That 15 number could flex up or down.”

Though the fire had been deemed a “minimal threat” Sunday evening, Christensen said residents in the community will have to remain vigilant, as wind and drier, warmer temperatures return today.

The Sheriff’s Department has established a hotline — 970-498-5500 — for residents seeking information.

The fire, which was only 25 acres Saturday afternoon, blew up overnight, and more than 200 firefighters battled it through Sunday, with some snow and rain helping tamp down the blaze, which had claimed about 7 square miles.

Lauri Dykstra, 52, lives nearby and said a neighbor alerted her to the fire about 11 p.m. Saturday. She walked out onto her back deck.

“The whole horizon behind us was just bright red and glowing,” Dykstra said.

Not far from this one-store crossroads, Curt Busby, 53, and his wife, Kelly O’Donnell, 50, thought they had more time to evacuate Saturday night when they spotted the fire about 5 miles up the road.

Within 20 minutes, however, fierce winds had whipped the flames up to their doorstep.

They had just enough time to grab a computer, a cellphone, a wallet and some pictures, Busby said.

“We were practically driving through flames down our road,” he said.

Busby said they never received a reverse 911 call warning them to evacuate.

“If we would have gone to bed, we might not have been here today,” said Busby, a civil engineer who custom-built his home with solar panels so it would generate its own electricity.

As they drove along a nearby ridge, Busby said, they saw fire consume at least six other homes, forming “big fireballs” as they ignited.

Several cars were gathered at Buckhorn Canyon and Bears Lair Road, with people angling for views of their property.

Jack and Kathy Lough, 55 and 54, borrowed a pair of binoculars to spy their small home, untouched by the blaze.

The Livestock Pavilion at the Ranch has been opened to house animals displaced by the fire. Larimer Humane Society is also providing temporary shelters for dogs, cats, small mammals and small farm animals for those displaced by the Crystal Fire.

The Davis Ranch Road area in Rist Canyon was placed on alert for possible evacuation, and an evacuation center was opened at the Big Thompson Elementary School at 7702 W. U.S. 34, Loveland.

This is in addition to the evacuation center at Cache La Poudre Elementary School at 3511 W. County Road 54G in Laporte.

The fire could be seen from about 40 miles south of Fort Collins on Interstate 25.

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