ESTES PARK, Colo. -- A wildfire that has been burning for nearly two months in Rocky Mountain National Park jumped its containment lines Friday night, and more than doubled in size, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people on Dec. 1.
A week later, all of those evacuees will be allowed to return home. The evacuations were lifted at 9 a.m. Friday.
As of Friday morning, containment of the fire is stuck at 45 percent. The size of the blaze was being estimated at 3,492 acres as of Friday.
The fire, which started Oct. 9, was 40 percent contained before it reignited this past weekend. So far, one unoccupied cabin in the Kaley Cottage area has burned.
The stubborn fire initially forced people in 700 homes to evacuate in three areas: Highway 66 and all adjacent streets including the YMCA campground; High Drive and all adjacent streets, and Mary’s Lake Road up to Moraine Ave. to Mary’s Lake on the west side.
Weaver continued to advise residents that pre-evacuation and evacuation notices could be reinstated due to wind forecasts or weather forecasts. But with temperatures expected to dip below freezing and snow also in the forecast this upcoming weekend, that was not expected.
More than 300 evacuees showed up at the shelters over the past week, according to the Red Cross.
"People came in, they were like we can see the glow on the ridge, we're leaving, leave the food, leave your stuff, get in a car, go. That's when it hit. It was close," said Noelle Martinez, a Colorado State University student who was at a sign language retreat and had to evacuate from the YMCA campgrounds.
She and her friend, Kelsey Knippe, found refuge in their cars in the parking lot of the evacuation center located at Estes Park High School.
"I never experienced an evacuation before, so it was kind of scary," said Knippe, who is also a CSU student.
Evacuee Ann Vernon lives near the YMCA and can't believe her life is in limbo because of a wildfire that won't die.
"This has been going on two months, so it's frustrating we didn't get a handle on it before," Vernon said.
But she and others understand why the fire has been so hard to contain.
"It is so dry now. It's eerie. We haven't had moisture in two months. It's just the same as the summer and as dangerous,” she said.
"The drought is a big issue here, and we need moisture like crazy. We keep hoping for heavy snow, heavy rain, whatever," said evacuee Earl Matson.
Firefighters are trying to maintain the continuing fire threat with more firefighter power, but it hasn’t been easy.
"You don't see this type of fire, this late in the season. And a lot of our firefighting resources are seasonal. And the season is over. So trying to get resources rounded up has been challenging," Weaver said.
Information on the Fern Lake Fire can be found at:
- Twitter: @inciweb
- Public information line: 970-577-3716 (Open 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Dec. 2 and Dec. 3)
- Sign up for emergency notifications at www.leta911.org.