Apr 032011
 
Authors: Andrew Carrera and Jim Sojourner

Masonville resident Lee Horner didn’t get evacuated from the Crystal Fire –– he ran from it.

“I woke up to go to the bathroom at 1 o’clock in the morning, I looked up the hill and it was coming,” he said. “That’s when I got my wife and my dad and said, ‘We gotta get out of here.’”

Moments later, Lee Horner sprinted out his door.

“In ten minutes we were gone, and the fire was coming right down the hill towards us,” he said. “We had no time at all.”

Lee Horner tried to return to his house later Sunday afternoon to find out if it was still standing, but a Larimer County Sheriff’s roadblock prevented him from going near his property.

It was 3 p.m. when a neighbor, leaning across the hood of a barricading police car, told him that his home didn’t burn down –– but the house Lee Horner’s son Moses Horner rents out did.

Moses Horner’s property is one of an estimated 15 homes and a number of cars, motor homes, trailers, trucks and other outbuildings officials found torched in a preliminary damage assessment after the Crystal Fire in the foothills west of Fort Collins ballooned into a 4,500-acre blaze by Sunday evening. No one was injured.

As of 6 p.m. Sunday, the fire, burning about 10 miles northwest of Masonville, was 5 percent contained.

The fire started Saturday afternoon on private property and encompassed only about 25 acres as the sun set. Firefighters had the blaze at about 30 percent containment before wind gusts as high as 50 miles per hour whipped the flames out of control overnight. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

A total of 336 people were evacuated from the Stringtown Gulch area, the Redstone Canyon area and the area south of Rist Canyon Road, east of Stove Prairie Road. Officials rescinded the evacuation order Sunday evening and allowed residents to return to their homes after 7:30 p.m. Roadblocks remained in place overnight, and individuals needed some documentation of residence, such as a drivers license, to gain access to the area.

And although his rental house isn’t one of those still standing, Moses Horner said his loss shouldn’t be blamed on Larimer County.

“When you’re up in these mountains and there’s a lot of ground to cover … they gave as much information as they could and didn’t make promises they couldn’t keep,” he said.

The cold-weather storm system that moved into the area Sunday morning assisted firefighters with periods of heavy snow and shifting winds that forced the fire back on itself, but efforts Sunday focused on mapping the fire perimeter and assessing property damage.

In a press release issued at 6 p.m. Sunday, Larimer County Sheriff Public Information Officer John Shulz called the cool weather a “gift” and said there appear to be no active fire threats for the next 24 hours. High winds and dry conditions, however, are expected to return later this week, he warned.

According to the National Weather Service, weather in Fort Collins today is expected to be mostly sunny with a high near 48 and west winds of 7 to 11 miles per hour.

Although the snowy weather aided in dampening the blaze, low visibility also grounded a heavy helicopter, Single Engine Air Transport and heavy tanker used early in the day to drop fire retardant from the air.

Reghan Cloudman, a fire information officer for the Forest Service, said, while the aircrafts do help in containment efforts, “they’re not what’s going to contain the fire like the firefighters on the ground.”

She also said updates about fire containment were slow to trickle out Sunday because crews prioritized combating the fire.

A type-3 management team from the Colorado State Forest Service –– a unit operated out of CSU’s Warner College of Natural Science –– headed up Sunday’s fire control and relief efforts with about 200 people. A type-1 management team comprised of state and national personnel who are trained to deal with the most complex wildfire situations is expected to take over today.

“CSU has participated in combating every major wildfire in the state through the state forest service,” said CSU Spokesman Brad Bohlander.

Overnight, five fire engines patrolled the burn area, according to an incident website managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Today, crews will continue to cool hotspots within the fire’s perimeter and dig lines around the flames.

A reconnaissance helicopter, the heavy air tanker and an additional heavy and medium air tanker will also be available to make drops today, weather permitting.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Department updated residents on damage estimates during a 6 p.m. community meeting at Big Thompson Elementary School in Loveland, after which the American Red Cross evacuation shelter initially located at the elementary school was shut down and moved to Walt Clark Middle School at 2605 Carlisle Drive in Loveland. It remains open to accommodate those who lost their homes to the flames.

“When you get involved with the Red Cross, one of the things we learn is to stay cool,” said Marty Martindale, a Red Cross volunteer deployed to feed firefighters in the field and tend to an evacuation shelter at Cache La Poudre Elementary that was open earlier Sunday, adding if he were instead an evacuee “I would be hectic … I would not be standing still.”

The Livestock Pavilion at the Ranch was opened up to shelter animals displaced by the fire. The Larimer County Humane Society also took in dogs, cats, small mammals and small farm animals, and according to an employee of the Larimer Humane Society who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media, the organization deployed half of its staff to perform “welfare checks” on abandoned animals.

“Horses have to be abandoned sometimes,” said Roberto Rockwell, who lives near the evacuation area. “People have to leave them behind if they don’t have a horse trailer.”

Animals goat-sized or smaller were taken in by the humane society. If deemed necessary, staff provided larger animals with food and water.

To report abandoned animals in need of help, individuals can contact animal control at 970-226-3647 ext. 5.

For updates about the fire, go to www.inciweb.org/incident/2161 or call the Larimer County Emergency Information line at 970-498-5500.

Chief Photographer Michael Bettis contributed to this report.

Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera and Managing Editor Jim Sojourner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:33 pm

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