Residents who fled under threat of destructive Colo. wildfire return to homes after week away

Residents who fled under threat of destructive Colo. wildfire return to homes after week away

02 April 2012

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USA — CONIFER, Colo. — All residents displaced by a wildfire that erupted a week ago were allowed to return to their homes on Monday as crews fully contained the blaze, which charred 6 square miles and apparently killed three people.

About 100 residents began returning to the mostly rural, mountainous area southwest of Denver, a week after the fire erupted.

Jacki Kelley, a spokeswoman with the Jefferson County sheriff’s office, said the decision was made because of “a combination of everything — the containment level, the large number of firefighters on the ground and the change of weather — that allows a sufficient level of comfort to allow residents to go home.”

Some 500 firefighters had surrounded 100 percent of the fire’s perimeter. Light rain and temperatures in the 30s moved into the area Monday, and the National Weather Service said 2 to 4 inches of snow could fall overnight — a significant change after a warm and dry March.

A large boulder with “Thank You Firefighters!” sits at the entrance to Conifer High School where firefighters have setup their command center in Conifer, Colo., on Saturday, March 31, 2012. As many as 500 firefighters are battling the the Lower North Fork Wildfire near Conifer that killed two people after it started Monday afternoon. Access to the burn area was restricted Saturday because of expected high winds. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

The sheriff’s office warned residents to watch for firefighters and fire trucks, avoid downed power lines and look out for fallen trees. Homeowners were advised to keep an eye out for smoking embers on their property.

One road remained closed because of fire danger, Kelley said.

Intermountain Rural Electric Association said power had been restored to all but about 56 of the 267 customers who lost it during the fire. The utility said it could take weeks to rebuild a power line after two or three miles of it burned.

At its peak on March 26, the blaze forced evacuations of 900 homes. More than two dozen homes were damaged or destroyed. The fire apparently was sparked by a controlled burn that sprang to life in strong winds.

The bodies of a couple and a set of human remains that may be those of a missing woman were discovered last week amid the debris.

Colorado had an unusually dry spring, with minimal precipitation since February and high temperatures and low humidity sapping vegetation and forests of moisture. The area hit record high temperatures in the 80s on Sunday.

Colorado has suspended controlled burns, which are designed to reduce wildfire risk, after the State Forest Service acknowledged that a March 22 prescribed burn apparently triggered the wildfire. High wind gusts blew embers across a containment line on March 26, the forest service said.

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