LOVELAND, Colo. — A new wildfire tore through northern Colorado Sunday, forcing hundreds of residents to flee and destroying one home just as residents 35 miles away returned to scorched homes in Boulder after one of the worst fires in state history.
The wildfire near Loveland quickly grew from just a few acres Sunday morning to more than 600 acres — or about a square mile — by the evening and it was pulling some of the resources from the fire in the foothills of Boulder that burned 10 square miles and destroyed 166 homes.
The fire has also destroyed four outbuildings and an RV, but no injuries have been reported, said Merlin Green, the division chief for Loveland Fire and Rescue. Officials said the blaze was 10 percent contained Sunday night.
Fire officials said crews would remain on the job through the night amid word late Sunday night that the blaze was burning at a slightly slower rate.
“Tonight, even though fire growth has slowed, we'll be hitting it hard with engines and ground crews,” the Larimer County Emergency Management said on its website.
Ron and Carol Christensen confirmed that the fire destroyed their home on Turkey Walk Trail, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald. The Larimer Humane Society was able to rescue their sheltie.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Boulder residents evacuated by the wildfire that has burned in rugged terrain since Sept. 6 were returning to their scorched homes Sunday. They were surrounded by the dreary sight of burnt trees, melted mailboxes and uneven patches of blackened ground.
“We found grandma's sterling, melted together” said Frances Smith, who along with her husband, Mike, sifted through the ashes of their home for their belongings. They also wondered about their daughter, who was among those ordered to evacuate because of the Loveland fire.
Firefighters inched closer to fully containing the Boulder blaze that has burned 10 square miles and authorities investigated what caused it.
A senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told the Denver Post that authorities are looking into whether a resident's fire pit sparked the wildfire. The newspaper did not name the official.
The sheriff's office is aware of the Post article but won't comment on the cause or origin of the fire because it's under investigation, said Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for the fire response.
Like other Boulder residents, Nancy and Jim Edwards picked up a permit Sunday morning to re-enter their neighborhood, but they found out that the roads leading to their area were still closed. Jim Edwards said they might drive as far as they're allowed.
“We might take a ride, but it is really heartbreaking to see the stuff,” he said.
Edwards said he spotted their house through a telescope from Flagstaff Mountain outside Boulder and saw that it was destroyed.
“It looked like a nuclear disaster,” Nancy Edwards said. She said they plan to rebuild.
At one destroyed property, all that remained was a stone chimney surrounded by walls of brick about waist high. Saplings in the front yard were burnt and barely their trunks remained. A barbecue grill lay upside down, along with seven metal mailboxes nearby. The house's separate garage had been reduced to a heap of ashes.
Fire officials warned that much of the area is dangerous because of downed power lines and poles, damaged roads and exposed mine shafts.
Still, Boulder firefighting operations were being scaled back and some crews were being relieved six days after the wildfire erupted and quickly destroyed at least 166 homes. Officials said full containment was expected by Monday evening.
Fire spokesman Terry Krasko said Sunday firefighters have been overwhelmed by the community's gratitude and are especially touched by a wall of thank-you notes at their command camp.
“That's probably one of the hardest walls for all the firefighters to go up to,” Krasko said. “They really have a tough time with that. The community support has been tremendous for them.”
So far, the fire has cost more than $6.7 million to contain. The Boulder Sheriff's Office is leading the investigation into the cause and origin of the fire. The loss of homes surpassed that of the 2002 Hayman fire in southern Colorado, which destroyed 133 homes and 466 outbuildings over 138,000 acres, or more than 215 square miles.
Insurers had no immediate damage estimate for the Boulder fire. The Boulder Daily Camera reported the wildfire destroyed at least $76.9 million worth of property, based on a database of buildings confirmed burned and their valuations listed in Boulder County property records.
In Loveland, about 100 firefighters from 16 agencies are working the blaze, along with four helicopters and nine air tankers. Residents within a four-mile radius of the fire are under a mandatory evacuation order. The cause of the fire hasn't been determined.
Andy Hiller, a Loveland spokesman, said the city sent evacuation notifications to more than 1,700 phone numbers.
At a Loveland church were a shelter was set up, families watched television coverage of the fire on a big screen. Others were outside, looking as helicopters drop hundreds of gallons of water on the fire near their homes.
“I don't know if it's gone or not but it's sure hard to tell because I can't get up there,” said Amanda Mitchell, 31, as she watched the air attack on the fire. She said she fears her home has been destroyed because she saw aerial footage of flames about 50 feet from the home she built with her father 10 years ago.