Crystal fire in Larimer Cty.: 95% contained, 13 homes burned, but what was cause? (VIDEOS)
Update: Finally, the Crystal fire in Larimer County is just about spent. According to the most recent feds' latest report, the containment level is at 95 percent, with some crews moving on and those that remain concentrating on mop-up.
More good news: the number of homes destroyed by the blaze has been decreased from fifteen to thirteen.
Of course, one large question remains: How the hell did the fire start in the first place? Officially, the cause is listed as "under investigation" -- so we don't yet know if Mother Nature or someone far more human was responsible for the initial spark.
Look below to trace the history of the fire, in reverse chronological order, complete with photos, videos and more.
Update, 9:33 a.m. April 8: The Crystal fire in Larimer County is mighty stubborn. One week after it got started, firefighters have finally nudged containment over 50 percent. However, two firefighters were injured yesterday, albeit in relatively modest ways, and conditions forecast for today may again ground air resources intended to help squelch the blaze for good.
Regarding the aforementioned wounds, U.S. Forest Service public information officer John Bustos says one involved stitches and the other pertained to a knee injury. "Neither are life-threatening," Bustos emphasizes. In his view, the fact that these are the first folks hurt despite the challenging terrain firefighters are facing speaks well to the crews' success at "accomplishing our number-one objective, which is firefighter and public safety."
At this writing, the number of acres engaged remains at 3,200, but that could change due to infra-red mapping done overnight. Here's the most recent map of the impacted zone:
The containment boost from 45 percent on Wednesday to 55 percent currently may not seem like much, but Bustos stresses that "we made good progress." Hence, no new evacuations have been ordered, and roads were fully reopened as of 10 a.m. yesterday.
There had been hope that 100 percent containment might be reached by the end of today, and Bustos says that's still within the realm of possibility. However, the 398 firefighters on the line will be facing lower overall humidity, higher temperatures (the predicted high is 61) and winds that may gust up to 35 miles per hour -- and anything over thirty will ground air resources.
Nonetheless, Bustos remains optimistic that firefighters will soon get the best of the Crystal fire.
Look below to see two new photos of the fire's impact, followed by our previous coverage from throughout this week.
Update, 9:42 a.m. April 7: Most local media organizations reported that the Crystal Fire in Larimer County was 60 percent contained as of last night -- but that's not actually the case. According to the U.S. Forest Service's Reghan Cloudman, who spoke to Westword moments ago, the actual containment is around 45 percent. This lower number calls into doubt the goal of total containment by tomorrow, although such a prospect is still within the realm of possibility.
Cloudman notes that the firefighting team anticipated 60 percent containment by Wednesday's end, "but we wound up pulling firefighters off the line a little early because of the cold, wet conditions. The roads were getting slippery, and we wanted them to be able to take their time getting down safely." Hence, the 45 percent containment at present -- which is "still a lot better than 15 percent," the total from the previous couple of days.
This progress was achieved despite a lack of air resources, which were grounded due to the precip -- and they haven't been cleared to fly yet this morning, either, owing to cloud cover. There are helicopters available should conditions change, however, and the number of professionals assigned to the blaze is up to 475, including support personnel.
Right now, the size of the fire remains stuck at 3,200 acres, and Cloudman emphasizes that "we're still finding hot areas, even though it snowed. So there's definitely still fire along the perimeter." Fortunately, though, all of the evacuees have been back in their homes since 10 a.m. yesterday, and they're expected to be able to stay despite a forecast that calls for higher temperatures and mild winds. Roadblocks remain in place, too, but that may change in the not-too-distant future.
To sum up the situation, the end finally seems in sight.
Look below for a couple of new videos of the fire's aftermath, followed by our coverage throughout the week.
Update, 8:09 a.m. April 6: In our coverage of the Crystal fire in Larimer County yesterday, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman warned of high-wind conditions that could force additional evacuations -- and this scenario came to pass.
At around 6:30 p.m. last night, the following announcement was issued:
Evacuations have been put in place for residents of Moondance Way, Stringtown Gulch, Redtail Way, Ohana Way, Lightning Ridge Way, Deer Path Way, and lower Wildsong Roads at approximately at 6:30 p.m. tonight, due to increased fire activity.
Residents can evacuate to the Red Cross emergency shelter set up at Walt Clark Middle School, located at 2605 Carlyle in Loveland. Emergency personnel are strongly encouraging residents to remain out of the evacuated area until the evacuation is lifted for personal safety and the safety of firefighters. Roads evacuated are closed to all but emergency personnel.
Speaking this morning, Cloudman offers more details.
"South of the fire, 21 residences were evacuated," she notes, "and we had a number evacuated north of the fire, too -- but because those were done door-to-door, I don't have a good estimate on the number."
Meanwhile, the acreage estimate remains at 3,200, but the total shouldn't be seen as static. According to Cloudman, the number of acres engulfed actually shrank during the early portions of the day before winds pushed the total back to where it had been that morning. On top of that, Cloudman adds, air resources were grounded during mid-afternoon as a result of gusts measured in the 30-35 mile per hour range.
Containment remains at 15 percent, too. But in the evacuated areas, "the wind caused the fire to go past the perimeter -- not necessarily a contained perimeter, but where the fire had kind of stopped," she continues. "It went past that point and started to move closer to homes," hastening the evacuations.
Reports this morning are just starting to filter in, so Cloudman doesn't know whether the evacuated homes remain at risk. However, the weather report is more promising. "Before we shut down at around 10 last night, the winds had started to calm down and we had higher relative humidity," she maintains. "And we're expecting cooler temperatures, higher humidity and calmer winds as well as precipitation. In Fort Collins, it's kind of half-snowing, half-drizzling right now, and that should definitely benefit firefighting efforts, allowing firefighters to work on the line without having to respond to those flare-up areas."
In other words, optimism has returned despite a difficult evening.
The federal InciWeb page sports the following map of the fire zone: