CONIFER, Colo. (AP/CBS4) – All residents displaced by the Lower North Fork Fire are being allowed to return to their homes Monday as fire crews achieved full containment of the blaze, which charred 6 square miles of rugged terrain southwest of Denver and apparently killed three people.
About 100 residents began returning at 8 a.m. MDT Monday, a week after the fire erupted. One road remained closed because of fire danger, said Jacki Kelley, a spokeswoman with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
Only people who had been evacuated were being let back in. Deputies were checking identification of people to make sure they are evacuated residents.
Some 500 firefighters had contained 100 percent of the fire’s perimeter and mopped up more hot spots within the zone. They also welcomed the arrival of a cold front Monday expected to deliver rain or snow.
“We haven’t had any water in the month of March and now this snow is going to help us fight the fire,” resident Robert Henderson said.
“It is 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,” Kelley said.
The sheriff’s office warned residents to watch for firefighters and fire trucks, avoid downed power lines and look out for falling trees. Homeowners also were advised to keep an eye out for smoking embers on their property.
Utility crews have restored services in much of the area, Kelley said.
At its peak on March 26, the blaze forced mandatory 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 identified as Ann Appel were discovered last week amid the debris.
Firefighters neared full containment despite record high temperatures in the 80s and occasional wind gusts Sunday. The state had seen minimal precipitation since February, and high temperatures and low humidity sapped vegetation and forests of moisture.
Colorado has suspended controlled burns, which are designed to reduce wildfire risk, after the Colorado State Forest Service acknowledged that a March 22 prescribed burn apparently triggered the North Fork Fire. High wind gusts blew embers across a containment line on March 26, the forest service said.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)