A blaze that may have been sparked by a prescribed burn conducted by the Colorado State Forest Service and ignited by high winds on Monday continues to burn with 0 percent containment, the Forest Service said Wednesday afternoon.
“Our preliminary investigation indicates that on Monday while doing mop up operations on a planned burn … the wind blew embers outside the containment lines,” said Lisa Mason, spokesperson for the Forest Service.
The Lower North Fork wildfire in Jefferson County has burned across an estimated 3,790 acres, forcing 900 homes to be evacuated and resulting in two fatalities with one person missing. It has destroyed an estimated 27 structures so far.
“The fire was relatively stable overnight,” the Forest Service said in a statement. “Fire crews made progress through the night in protecting structures. Today’s strategy is to gain containment around the fire while continuing to protect structures.”
Firefighters were battling the blaze on the ground and in the air on Wednesday with P2V Tankers and a CSFS SEAT plane dropping fire retardant, along with four National Guard helicopters conducting water drops.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has started to assist with funding.
If the Forest Service is found to be responsible for starting the fire, under a Colorado law, which limits liability for the state and its taxpayers, the state would only be liable to pay up to $600,000 total.
Marianne Goodland, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, which oversees the state’s insurance division, said the department is awaiting more reports from the fire and the damages it’s causing before offering estimates on insured losses.
“We’re not even close to that yet,” she said, adding that they will not even try to take a guess, “not till they get containment on this.”
Carole Walker, executive director for the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, noted that while 27 homes are considered a total loss, there are 6,500 residents on evacuation alert.
“The evacuation is still on,” she said. “Insurance companies still don’t have any access yet. At this point we’re still in a wait-and-see mode.”
Both the Forest Service and Jefferson County’s fire department are fighting the fire.