The weather that has sided with the flames of the High Park fire changed sides today, giving firefighters an upper hand in the battle against the nearly 68,200-acre blaze west of Fort Collins.
Containment has increased to 55 percent, as temperatures cooled to the 60s at about 8,000 feet, where the fire is burning. Humidities that had been as low as 3 percent earlier this week climbed as high as 45 percent today.
"Mother nature provided a window, said Brett Haberstick, spokesman for the Interagency Wildfire Dispatch Center coordinating the fight.
While crews earlier had been immediately preoccupied with defending homes and other structures, today they actively suppressed fires burning in interior islands. Structure protection, however, remains a priority, he said.
Fire officials are "very encouraged by what we're doing on fireground," Haberstick said.
Thousands of residents remain on evacuation from the fire that has consumed 189 homes and cost an estimated $19.6 million dollars, the most of any fire in Colorado history.
Security against looters and other trespassers in evacuated areas remains high, said John Schulz, spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff's Department.
Authorities have heard reports of possible looting, but none have been confirmed as of this afternoon, he said.
The all-clear was given to evacuees in the Soldier Canyon, Mill Canyon Estates, Hewlett Gulch and parts of the Glacier View Meadows areas. Those entering the areas, however, still need proof of residency to get in.
Schulz said residents of Poudre Park could be allowed home Thursday afternoon, fire conditions permitting.
The western portion of Glacier View Meadows, known as ninth through 12th filings of the subdivision, is under a mandatory evacuation today, along with scores of other small communities within the 103-square-mile perimeter.
Officials have said that even though fire has moved on from many of the areas, residents will not be allowed home until basic utilities are restored, for the safety of the residents who might be asked to leave again.
The fire is in its 12th day, after lightning started it in the Paradise Park area on June 9, the day the fire killed 62-year-old Linda Steadman at her ranch in the Stove Prairie community. She is the fire's only fatality.
Nearly 2,000 firefighters have been battling the blaze in punishing conditions this week.
"The last three days were three days of red flag conditions, which is very unusual for Colorado" at this time of year, fire incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said. "We do our best to hang on."
With a break in the conditions, "We are going to be very aggressive," Hahnenberg said this morning. "We have an opportunity with these conditions."
Temperatures are expected to climb back into the upper 80s Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
On Wednesday, Larimer County officials imposed a fire ban in unincorporated areas of the county. There is now "no open fire of any kind," officials said. This means no charcoal burners, though traditional camp stoves that turn off and on are still allowed.
Staff writer Kieran Nicholson contributed to this story.
Joey Bunch: 303-954-1174 or email@example.com