NEW: Governor suspends "controlled" fires until an investigation is completed
27 structures have been damaged or destroyed
Fatalities were husband and wife
The blaze was fueled by high winds and dry conditions
The cell-phone video shows a scene straight out of hell: a darkness lit only by billowing smoke, tinted orange and red from nearby flames, as a vehicle hurtles toward safety.
“This is heartbreaking and we’re sorry,” State Forester Joe Duda told reporters about the Lower North Fork Fire, which has scorched thousands of acres in Jefferson County, destroying or damaging 27 houses and leaving a woman missing in addition to the two fatalities.
A team is being formed to investigate how last Thursday’s controlled burn re-erupted on Monday as a wildfire. “We had made previous patrols in that area and seen absolutely no sign of smoke,” he said. “When the winds kicked up strong in the afternoon was when the event started.” He expected the investigation to begin within a week, and to be completed within three weeks.
Gov. John Hickenlooper joined the call for an independent review. “The loss of life and property this week is devastating and this fire is far from being contained,” he said in a news release. “That’s why our top priority remains working to control the blaze.”
He suspended the use of prescribed burns by state agencies on state lands – including state parks, refuges, State Land Board lands and any agency that manages lands – or under contract on non-state lands, such as by the Colorado State Forest Service. The suspension will be effective until the review of protocols and procedures of prescribed burning is complete.
“We encourage any other land manager who uses prescribed fires as a tool to mitigate fire danger to review their procedures and protocols and carefully evaluate weather and landscape conditions,” he said.
Hickenlooper authorized Wednesday the use of two more UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters flown by the Colorado Army National Guard to help subdue the fire. Each helicopter carries a 500-gallon bucket to drop water on the fire. Two other helicopters began flying Tuesday over the fire.
The efforts of more than 500 firefighters made progress Wednesday against the fire, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office said.
And as firefighters work to extinguish the blaze, the search continues for a woman missing since the fast-moving wildfire swept through her home. A search and rescue team of 32 people and six dogs searched 60 acres Wednesday around her house and found no sign of the woman, said Jacki Kelley, a public information officer with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
The search continued Wednesday for a woman who was last seen after the fast-moving wildfire swept through her home in a mountainous area near Denver. A search-and-rescue team of 32 people and six dogs searched 60 acres Wednesday around her house and found no sign of the woman, she said. “The scene is still hot, difficult to work in, hard to move dogs in,” she said.
Firefighters have dropped 4,100 gallons of fire retardant on the blaze, which was fueled by high winds and dry conditions, officials said.
Jefferson County Coroner John Graham identified the two victims as a married couple, Samuel Lucas, 77, and Linda Lucas, 76. “They were found very close together,” Kelley said. “One was found outside; one was found inside.”
Officials were trying to determine why the couple did not leave the fire zone by Monday night.
CNN’s Tina Burnside, Phil Gast, Darrell Calhoun, Josh Levs, Shawn Nottingham, Dave Hennen, and Sarah Dillingham contributed to this report.