Fire Near Rocky Flats Evacuates 135 Homes

April 4, 2006

Blown by winds gusting to 50 miles per hour, a grass fire spread across an estimated 1,600 acres and forced the evacuation of 135 homes Sunday near the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado.

The fire was reported around 1:45 p.m. and was fully contained Sunday night, Jefferson County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said.

Investigators determined the blaze was accidental. Kelley said an electric pole in a field sparked the fire in the high wind, sending smoke climbing into the sky that could be smelled 15 miles away in Denver.

About 135 homes in the Walnut Creek subdivision were evacuated, and 8,700 more in the Countryside subdivision in this Denver suburb were on alert, said Laura Koppel, spokeswoman for the Westminster Fire Department.

The evacuation order was lifted a few hours after the fire was reported, but it was a grim reminder that Colorado and much of the West remain in the grips of a drought.

Cindy Callahan, 41, and her husband, Pat, waited out the fire at a recreation center where evacuees were sent. She had gone shopping Sunday morning and heard from friends the neighborhood might be evacuated.

“Our friends just grabbed our dog and the police didn’t even let us in,” she said.

The fire quickly blackened hundreds of acres amid a steady wind of 30 mph and gusts up to 50 mph. Koppel said firefighters put compressed air foam on some of the homes to protect them.

Joseph Montgomery, 19, said his mother saw smoke near their house and called the fire department. They got the call to evacuate around 2:15 p.m.

“All I got was my wallet and shoes,” he said before the evacuation order was lifted.

The fire was near the old Rocky Flats site, which made plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads until 1989.

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