BASALT, Colo. -- An erratic wildfire charging through extremely dry land in a community near the Colorado ski town of Aspen destroyed three homes and forced people to flee in the middle of the night, authorities said Thursday.
While people in the rest of the country watched fireworks to celebrate July 4, hundreds of people gathered around the Colorado town of Basalt late into the night to watch pockets of fire dance on a hillside. Just an hour after authorities said the fire had stabilized, a neighborhood was ordered to flee early Thursday.
"The Lake Christine Fire grew significantly on July 4th, due to erratic outflow winds, extremely dry fuels, and single digit relative humidity. Local crews worked all night long, performing firing operations and protecting over a hundred homes. Unfortunately, three homes were destroyed during the extreme fire behavior and prolific ember shower," the Eagle County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook.
The fire had burned about 5,735 acres and was 3 percent contained by Saturday afternoon.
Residents had evacuated more than 500 houses, including sprawling multi million-dollar properties as well as mobile homes and condos of people working in the region where affordable housing is scarce.
As of Saturday, approximately 782 evacuees from 279 homes have returned home.
More people will be allowed to return Sunday. Officials said people living in the El Jebel trailer park can return at 8 a.m. Sunday, while residents of the following subdivisions can return at 2 p.m.: Big Pinion, Little Pinion, Shadow Rock, Original Road, Pine Ridge, Sagewood Court, Hillcrest, Silverado and Two Rivers for access to Hillcrest.
Smoke from the fire had temporarily halted flights at Aspen's airport about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away earlier in the week.
Authorities say the fire started Tuesday evening after two people at the Basalt shooting range used tracer bullets, which illuminate the path of fired bullets.
Richard Karl Miller, 23, and Allison Sarah Marcus, 22, both of El Jebel face 4th-degree arson charges for firing the bullets. They could face additional charges after the investigation is concluded, according to Amber Barrett, a spokeswoman for the Eagle County Sheriff's Office.
The charge is a misdemeanor. They were given a summons and not arrested, so they are not being held in the Eagle County Jail.