The Lime Gulch Fire that burned 511 acres in the Pike National Forest east of Pine was started by lightning last Tuesday night, officials have confirmed.
No structures were damaged in the blaze, but more than 100 people were forced to leave their homes for four days. The evacuation orders were lifted at 9 p.m. Saturday.
As of Sunday evening, 100 percent containment was reported on the blaze, which at its peak was battled by 300 firefighters, along with air support.
The fire’s cause
Officials said there were about 3,000 lightning strikes in the Pike National Forest on the afternoon and evening of June 18.
A small fire started June 18, and firefighters from North Fork Fire and the U.S. Forest Service responded. A second fire had started and wasn’t noticed until June 19. Jeffco Sheriff Ted Mink said the first fire was remotely monitored overnight.
On the afternoon of June 19, North Fork Fire and the Forest Service responded again, but this time the wildfire grew, and mutual aid was requested about 1:45 p.m.
Although the Lime Gulch Fire started in a sparsely populated area, more than 100 people were forced to leave their homes.
Jeffco sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said 410 CodeRED emergency phone evacuation calls went out that Wednesday afternoon and evening.
“Of the 410, we reached 353 homes,” Kelley said.
A level 3 evacuation was ordered June 19 within a 3-mile radius of Foxton and Platte River roads and in the Buffalo Creek township. Homes on Kuehster Road, the area most affected by last year’s Lower North Fork Fire, were placed under a level 1 evacuation warning. The Spring Creek Subdivision was also placed under a pre-evacuation order.
A Red Cross shelter was set up at Evergreen High School for evacuees.
‘Running on adrenaline’
Eric and Christina Jensen received an evacuation notice Wednesday afternoon.
“You’re ready to just be done and be back home in your own bed,” said Eric Jensen, whose home is about 2 miles north of the fire.
“The first 24 hours (of being evacuated), you’re running on adrenaline,” Christina said. “After that, reality sets in, and it’s really a downer.”
Christina said she was astounded by the generosity of her mountain neighbors.
“We’ve had about 30 offers to stay at people’s homes,” she said.
The Jensen family stayed at a friend’s house in Evergreen during the evacuation. During that time, Eric’s thoughts were with fellow Coloradans who were facing worse conditions.
“Our prayers are with the people of South Fork,” Eric said. “What they’re going through is so much worse. At least our situation is beginning to look up.”
At press time, the West Fork fire complex had ravaged more than 70,000 acres and was threatening the town of South Fork in Rio Grande County.
A collaborative effort
The U.S. Forest Service sent in a Type 2 Incident Management Team to coordinate firefighting efforts at the Lime Gulch Fire on June 20.
“(My team) comes in and assists local efforts when they are ‘spent,’ ” Incident Commander Dan Dallas said. “We work with firefighters, sheriff’s departments, evacuees and whoever else we need to.”
Nearly 300 firefighters from North Fork, Evergreen, Elk Creek, Platte Canyon, Genesee, West Metro and the U.S. Forest Service did their part to contain the Lime Gulch Fire.
Firefighters on the ground were assisted by air tankers and helicopters.
Crews protecting structures near Southwest Platte River Road were there to ensure the fire didn’t cross the South Platte River.
Last Thursday, Dallas said the fire was “fingering toward” 20 to 30 structures on Southwest Platte River Road, but that structure protection crews were in place.
A spot fire started across the South Platte River after 3 p.m. Friday, but crews were able to stop it.
“Spot fires are not a concern until they get away — (firefighters) expect them,” Dallas said. “We have crews there ready to take care of (spot fires).”
Dallas said no structures were in immediate danger at any time during the fire.
The final push
Firefighter Shane Greer said that the most progress was made on Saturday.
“We had a good day (Saturday),” Greer said. “We were able to reach 90 percent containment and lift all the evacuations.”
On Sunday, firefighters concentrated on mopping up.
The Intermountain Rural Electric Association had restored electricity to all evacuated homes by 8 a.m. Sunday. Power had been shut off for safety and precautionary reasons.
Folks returning home were able to pick up their animals at the Jeffco Fairgrounds and Foothills Animal Shelter.
The Colorado Trail trailheads at Waterton Canyon and Reynolds Park will remain closed until further notice.