Colorado crews scrambled Monday to gain ground against two blazes — including the largest in state history — as this year’s historic wildfire season imparted more heartbreak and hardships on the West.
The Cameron Peak Fire, which has torched more than 204,400 acres through the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake in Larimer County, was 51% contained as of Monday evening. Gusty winds and dry conditions have fueled the growth of the fire, which ignited in August, according to the the U.S. Forest Service said.
Cloudy conditions and poor visibility kept fire aircraft grounded into Monday afternoon before winds calmed to allow for aerial support for ground crews, fire officials said.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office assembled 10 assessment teams to tally the damage of the fire’s most recent pushes, Sheriff Justin Smith wrote in a Facebook post Monday morning.
Another blaze, the Calwood Fire raging in the north-central part of the state, forced nearly 3,000 people to flee — including residents of tiny Jamestown at the foothills of the Rockies — over the weekend. The fire, which ignited Saturday near the Cal-Wood Education Center about 17 miles from downtown Boulder, has singed more than 8,700 acres and is 15% contained.
By Monday afternoon, fire crews had been “successful in constructing and patrolling lines so far today with very little fire movement so far,” according to incident command.
At least 26 homes have been lost to the blaze, which is being driven by ferocious winds, said Mike Wagner, division chief with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. The National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Mesa lab recorded gusts of 59 mph on Saturday.
‘It just exploded’: Cameron Peak, CalWood fires drive thousands from their homes in Colorado
Mary Ann Beard told the Daily Camera she has been forced to evacuate her Mountain Ridge home five times. When she got a call Saturday, she assumed the order was for the Cameron Peak Fire, not realizing the Calwood blaze was burning less than 15 miles away.
“I’ve learned to just have a duffel bag open in the closet to just throw clothes into it,” she told the newspaper. “And that’s what happened.”
Beard said 17 homes dotted her subdivision, “and now there’s only one standing. There’s just foundations and smoke coming from everywhere. I don’t think it’s all hit me yet.”
This makes my heart hurt. Dozens of homes in Boulder County have been destroyed by the #CalwoodFire. #Copter4 caught this image, of what’s left this morning. Thinking of those families. We’ll provide updates throughout the day on @CBSDenver and CBSN! pic.twitter.com/AYx4UnDXyv
— Makenzie O’Keefe (@makenziepokeefe) October 19, 2020
Courtney Walsh told the Denver Post she had about a 30-minute warning to gather her children, animals and belongings before sheriff’s deputies urged her to leave her house near Boulder on Saturday afternoon.
“We were just waiting and waiting, and you know there is Twitter and live feeds,” she said. “Then we saw a picture from the National Weather Service, and it focused on our house burning. So then we knew.”
The Colorado wildfires were among more than 60 major fires burning in 11 Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In hard-hit California, more than a dozen wildfires have raged in recent months. But there was some good news: The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the state’s request for disaster relief funds to clean up damage from six blazes.
Contributing: John Bacon and Steve Kiggins, USA TODAY; Sarah Kyle, Fort Collins (Colo.) Coloradoan; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Colorado wildfires: Cameron Peak, Calwood fires destroy homes, land