A spokesman for the Colorado Forest Service says that what began as a controlled burn just southwest of Denver got out of control this week and turned into the deadly Lower North Fork Wildfire. Colorado deputy state forester Joe Duda apologized, saying the situation is "heartbreaking." He said an ember escaped from the containment line surrounding the planned burn and ignited the blaze, notes The Associated Press.
Since the fire started, an elderly couple has been found dead in their home, a woman is missing and at least 27 homes are damaged or destroyed, according to the AP. The fire, set last Thursday, broke out afresh on Monday.
As Ben Markus reported for All Things Considered, the sudden return of flames caught many by surprise, leading to a chaotic evacuation. Ben talked to Mark Techmeyer of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, who says the fire's power was monstrous:
"You get a fire that ran like it did, Monday afternoon with wind gusts up to 80 miles an hour; it went from one acre to 3,000 in about an hour," Techmeyer says. "Like I say, when they were running for their lives, they literally were," he says. "We had firefighters going down the road grabbing people and their pets and throwing them in the firetrucks to get them out. It was that bad."
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) suspended controlled burns until a state investigation into this fire is completed. "We will conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of conditions across the state, as well as the protocols that have been utilized during the prescribed burns," the governor said in a written statement.
At this time, the Denver Post reports the blaze is 15% contained and scorched more than 4,100 acres.