CONIFER, Colo. (AP) – More residents displaced by the Colorado wildfire returned to their homes as fire crews on Sunday fought for full containment of the blaze, which charred 6 square miles of rugged terrain southwest of Denver and may be responsible for three deaths.

Residents of 50 homes were still unable to return on Sunday, nearly a week after the fire erupted. At its peak, the blaze forced mandatory evacuations of 900 homes. More than two dozen homes were damaged or destroyed.

Colorado authorities are allowing all remaining evacuees from the Lower North Fork wildfire to return home on Monday.

Firefighters have contained 97 percent of the fire’s perimeter.

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 left behind by the Lower North Fork fire. The fire apparently was sparked by a controlled burn that sprang to life March 26 in strong winds.

About 500 firefighters were battling record high temperatures in the 80s and wind gusts but hoped that an approaching cold front bringing precipitation – even snow – late Sunday could help them secure the perimeter, said Jacki Kelley of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

That front was expected to deliver wind gusts as high as 50 mph late Sunday or early Monday, another concern for firefighters, said Jim Kalina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder.

Red flag warnings advising residents of high fire danger dotted much of Colorado Sunday. The state had seen minimal precipitation since February, and high temperatures and low humidity have sapped vegetation and forests of moisture both in the Rockies as well as the Eastern Plains.

Utilities were slowly being restored inside the fire zone. Electricity and natural gas crews worked with emergency officials to restore services in much of the area, Kelley said.

Colorado has suspended controlled burns that are designed to reduce wildfire risk after the Colorado State Forest Service acknowledged that a March 22 prescribed burn may have rekindled and triggered the North Fork Fire. High wind gusts blew embers across a containment line, the forest service said.

lower north fork map 4 1 12 tight jeffcoso blog Crews Near Full Containment Of Lower North Fork Fire

(credit: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office)

Search crews on Saturday found human remains in a damaged home, but Jefferson County authorities said they didn’t know if the remains were those of Ann Appel, who had been reported missing.

The bodies of Sam Lamar Lucas, 77, and Linda M. Lucas, 76, were found at their destroyed home last week.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Wildfire Resources

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– Read recent Wildfire stories.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

– See images from the most destructive wildfire (Fourmile Fire) and largest wildfire (Hayman Fire) in Colorado history.


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