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Tree touching power lines caused Bluebell Fire

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Fire now 100 percent controlled

By The Staff

The Bluebell Fire that torched 15 acres last Monday north of Brook Forest Drive in Evergreen was caused by a 48-foot tree that made contact with two power lines and ignited, and the flames quickly spread to the ground.

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By 4 p.m. Tuesday, firefighters had established a fire line around the burn area, and by Wednesday morning, the fire was 100 percent controlled, said Stacee Montague, spokeswoman for Evergreen Fire/Rescue.

The fire forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes on Monday, but all remaining evacuees were expected to return to their homes at 8 p.m. Tuesday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said.

About 140 homes had remained evacuated north of Hemlock Lane and Brook Forest Drive on Tuesday; all other residents were allowed to return home Monday night, but Kelley recommended that they keep possessions packed and remain ready to leave again. No structures were damaged in the fire, and no one was injured, she said.

Incident commander Bill Easterling said 360 homes were without electricity during the fire, but all power was restored by 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. Tim Vanni with CenturyLink said phone lines should be working in all areas.

The Bluebell Fire was fully contained but not controlled, Easterling said, adding that the fire was no longer moving. This means a line has been established around the fire, but firefighters were not comfortable that it would hold, especially since higher winds were expected Tuesday afternoon.

“We will be working hard today to make the line bigger,” Kelley said. “You will still see smoke from that area for the next few days.”

Easterling said: “You all should be proud of your firefighters and Chief (Mike) Weege,” and his comment was met with rousing applause.

About 140 firefighters on the ground dug lines Tuesday, while a helicopter dumped water on the burn area. The water was coming from a pond on Broce Ranch. About 60 firefighters attended the Tuesday morning briefing at the Evergreen Fire/Rescue administration building.

Six alpacas and 36 horses were taken to the Jeffco Fairgrounds, and more than 60 small animals were taken to Foothills Animal Shelter.

On Tuesday, fire investigators from Evergreen Fire/Rescue and the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office began investigating the cause and origin of the fire, Kelley said.

Kelley said that while the fire was calmer Monday night, fire officials were surprised at how hot the blaze continued to be. Typically, at night, firefighters simply monitor the burn area.

“Monday night, there were firefighters actually fighting fires,” Kelley said. “That’s unusual.”

Firefighters are working in a wooded area with steep terrain.

“It’s still really dry,” Kelley said, “even though we had a lot of snow in April and May.”

She said officials would be checking the CodeRED phone-notification system to determine how well it worked and what changes need to be made.

“We want to know how well it did and how quickly (the messages) got out,” she said. “We know it wasn’t 100 percent. We know people from outside the perimeter got calls, and some people inside the perimeter didn’t get calls. It’s not perfect.”

The Conifer High School evacuation center remained open Tuesday for evacuees to get information and to have a place to stay, Kelley said. No one spent Monday night at the high school.

Earlier Monday, the fire was moving southwest toward the Clear Creek line and at one point endangered 100 homes.

Some 9,900 emergency evacuation calls went out to homes north of U.S. 285, south of Buffalo Park Road, west of Highway 73 and east of the west Jefferson County line. Brook Forest Estates was under a Level 3 immediate evacuation. A second set of calls went out several hours after the first.

Hundreds of evacuees gathered at Conifer High on Monday, and many were watching TVs there to get news of the fire. Members of Journey Church handed out bottled water, and a Red Cross team was dispatched.

Jeffco Public Schools evacuated Wilmot Elementary School and Evergreen High School and the bus barn in Marshdale as a precaution, though classes were not in session Monday. 

Firefighters reported 40-foot flames soon after the wildfire started at 2 p.m., and they worked to protect homes on Deer Path and Brook Forest Drive.

One helicopter dropped water on structures, and a single-engine air tanker dropped loads of slurry.

Evergreen Fire/Rescue requested help from the U.S. Forest Service, and from the Elk Creek, Indian Hills, North Fork, Inter-Canyon, West Metro and Foothills fire departments. A 20-person crew from Douglas County joined the effort Tuesday afternoon.

The fire departments used Brook Forest Drive at Elk Run to stage their attack on the flames. Hand crews battled the flames, while structure fire crews tried to keep homes from burning. Kelley said at least one home was saved by the work of firefighters.

Because of the mountainous terrain, tender trucks could not haul water to the fire, said Kelley. Fire crews were hand-carrying water to the area.

Mike Hubbeling, who lives on Broce Ranch Trail, said he was working outside, looked up and saw the flames flare up.

“It was explosive,” he said. “It was as if a bomb went off.”

The last wildfire in the same area was in May 2002, when the Black Mountain Fire ignited 7 miles northwest of Conifer and eventually burned 345 acres on federal lands managed by the Pike-San Isabel and Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forests. More than 2,400 people were evacuated, and suppression costs totaled $1.1 million.

While evacuation was strongly advised on Monday, it wasn’t mandatory, Kelley said.

“We’re not going to drag people from their homes,” she said.

“It looks like a lot of trailers are being moved out,” Kelley said, referring to large-animal evacuation.