Residents Return to Homes Threatened by Colorado Fire

April 3, 2012

All residents displaced by a wildfire that erupted a week ago were allowed to return to their homes on Monday as crews neared full containment of 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 97 percent of the fire’s perimeter. Forecasters were calling for a cold front expected to deliver rain or snow, a significant change after a warm and dry March.

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.

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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