LARIMER COUNTY — The raging High Park fire has jumped the Poudre River at Stevens Gulch and is racing up a drainage toward the Glacier View Meadows neighborhood.
At 5:15 p.m., Larimer County issued an immediate evacuation order for the Glacier View Meadows neighborhood.
Fire officials said in a briefing Thursday night that a thunder cell created downdrafts, which stirred up embers that ignited 60-100 acres on the north side of Colorado 14 on Sheep Mountain.
The residents of approximately 80 homes were told to evacuate. The order covers the subdivision from Many Thunders Road south into the 12th filing, including 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 and Black Mountain Court.
The roadblock is at Eiger and Many Thunder Mountain.
This morning, incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said this is precisely what he hoped would not happen.
"We have some heat there we don't want this fire to cross Poudre Canyon," he said. "What we don't want is the fire to make a several mile run. If it does that, it could go across the river and then we have a whole different fire to deal with."
Many people had already left the neighborhood this morning. One house had a sign that read "Evacuated to Wellington KOA." Others had their vehicles parked and pointed toward the road.
This morning, Roger Lewis, 61, an electronics technician who is unemployed, was packing this morning and said his worst worry was that the fire would cross Colorado 14.
"But if it burns, it burns," he said. "I'm just getting the stuff that is hardest to replace and the easiest to get out. I'm grabbing the high-dollar stuff."
The High Park fire has now burned more than 52,000 acres northwest of Fort Collins, fire managers said this afternoon.
The fire is being fought using nine helicopters and fixed-wing craft and more than 1,300 people battling the blaze centered about 15 miles northwest of Fort Collins.
The fire is considered 15 percent contained. Larimer County Sheriff's executive officer Nick Christensen said crews have made good progress on the east edge of the fire, but the west flank, which is burning in heavy timber mostly killed by the pine beetle infestation.
Crews have been setting backburns to slow the fire's progress, using plastic ping-pong balls filled with flammable chemicals that are shot from a helicopter and burst into flame when they hit the ground, lighting small fuels, such as pine needles, on fire, said incident team manager Brett Haberstick.
He is optimist that Thursday night will bring good news for the crews, as humidity levels are expected to rise.
The fire is burning 30 percent federal, 70 percent private land.
"We are managing this fire with patience and the right amount of aggressiveness," U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at an earlier briefing, reiterating what incident commander Bill Hahnenberg had told him. "We know that more area will continue to burn before this fire is put out.
"This fight is just beginning," he said.
Salazar, noting that members of the National Guard are on fire lines and that the U.S. Department of Defense has "assets" on standby, said federal officials are focusing resources on fires in Southern California, Colorado, Utah, part of Nevada and New Mexico.
"Doing everything we can to make sure people are protected, but fires are going to happen," he said.
The fight of the fire from the air resumed about 1 p.m. today. Tankers flying from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield had been grounded because of heavy smoke over the fire, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper today signed a ban on open burning and private use of fireworks in the state because of the dry conditions and high fire danger. The ban does not apply to campfires in constructed, permanent fire pits in campground and recreation sites.
Professional fireworks shows are still OK, so long as crews have written permission from the county sheriff, Hickenlooper said.
"We're not telling people not to go outside and enjoy the outdoors," Hickenlooper said at an afternoon press conference. "We're going to celebrate the Fourth of July."
Fire officials have said more than 100 structures have burned. On Wednesday they confirmed 31 of those were homes — 22 in Stratton Park, five in Pine Acres and four in Poudre Canyon. Thursday night officials added 17 homes to the previously announced 31. The new homes confirmed destroyed are in the lower portion of Poudre Canyon.
Earlier estimates on total structures burned were as high as 118, but the Larimer County Sheriff's Office said that number is being revised as structure assessment teams work their way through the burn zone.
As of late Wednesday, the cost of fighting the fire is estimated at $4.2 million, according to the Forest Service.
Residents of the Bonner Peaks subdivision may return home this afternoon. Big Bear Road and County Road 27 south of Big Bear Road are open. Otter Road remains closed.
Fire officials this afternoon issued an "all-clear" for Bar D Ranch Road, south on the Buckhorn Road to the junction of the Masonville Road, northwest to include Alfalfa Way, Buckhorn Ridge Way and Running Brook Lane. Residents in those areas may return home and passes will be available at local roadblocks, the sheriff's office said.
Buckskin Heights and Redstone Canyons will remain closed. Missile Silo Road and Cloudy Pass are closed, but may reopen soon.
Thunderstorms could open up over the fire area this afternoon, but with the chance of rain comes the chance of lightning.
Temperatures in the fire area were in the low- to mid-60s at about 7 a.m. today, and the day's high temperature should top out in the mid- to upper-70s, according to the National Weather Service. Winds in the area could gust up to about 18 mph.
There's a 10 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms for the area this afternoon, the weather service reports.
Incident commander Hahnenberg this morning said the fire continues to grow on the western side but hotspots have been knocked down on the eastern flank, closer to Fort Collins.
Firefighters executed some back burns overnight on the fire's southern perimeter, which will help protect structures, Hahnenberg said. He also said firefighters are working hard to keep the blaze from jumping the Poudre River on the north.
In a sign that things are getting back to normal in some sections of the fire area, the U.S. Post Office announced today that it will resume mail delivery in parts of Bellvue.
For the past several days the Bellvue Post Office had operated out of nearby Laporte because of the fire threat.
The Bellvue office serves about 300 Post Office boxes and about 1,100 street delivery addresses. Street address deliveries are not yet being resumed, but Bellvue residents can now pick up their mail at their local post office, 5301 Rist Canyon Road.
The American Red Cross is working with Larimer County and Colorado State University in opening a "long-term recovery" center for fire victims on the CSU campus in Fort Collins.
The new center will open Friday and will aid fire victims seven days a week, said Patricia Billinger, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
Seven people spent last night at the emergency evacuation shelter at The Ranch in Loveland, Billinger said. That shelter will remain open since there are standing pre-evacuation orders and some residents may be forced to flee at a moment's notice.
The center opening Friday in the university's Johnson Hall will aid victims who have lost homes, as well as victims who didn't but who still need help.
Among services offered will be: housing counseling, helping victims navigate how to plan and build new homes; mental health services, for people who are struggling with the devastation brought on by the fire; and human service aid like food stamps, for people who've missed work or suffered monetary losses as they've dealt with the fire.
Kieran Nicholson: 303-954-1822 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's note: This online archive has been corrected. About 70 percent of the High Park fire is on private land; 30 percent is on federal land.