Fern Lake Fire engaged from above Monday with over 17,000 gallons of water dropped by helicopters

ESTES PARK, Colo. - With reduced winds Monday, aerial attacks on the Fern Lake Fire began in earnest. A crew from California dropped more than 17,000 gallons of water using two giant helicopters.

The fire, which started on Oct. 9 but exploded over the weekend.

The fire was downgraded 4,400 acres to 3,750 acres with 40 percent containment on Monday night. It is still contained inside the park.

Firefighters had not been able to drop water from above using helicopters because of the conditions. Additionally, air tanker planes ordered for the fire Saturday were unable to leave California because of high winds, officials said.

Jesse Rodriguez is a helitack captain from California. He said one helicopter they’re using can pick-up 2,600 gallons of water a minute and carry up to 1,500 gallons to drop.

"He comes in, picks up water, flies out just west of here and dumps on the fire," Rodriguez said as he pointed toward the Fern Lake Fire. "They’re going to be able to get to terrain where people aren't able to get to."

Favorable weather conditions on Monday gave firefighters an opportunity to work on spot fires in the Steep Mountain area, using both ground and aerial resources, officials said.

Some 250 firefighters are battling the fire.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith and Fern Lake Fire managers announced Monday evening that tentative plans are being made to allow some residents from the Highway 66 evacuation area to return home by 9 a.m. Wednesday. Areas were people may be allowed to return, include:

  • The Highway 66 evacuation area from Highway 36 up to and including Aspen Brook Drive.
  • Highway 36 to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park would also reopen Wednesday morning.
  • Homes and businesses on Highway 66 beyond Aspen Brook Drive will continue to remain evacuated until conditions allow their return.

"We're doing well. There’s nothing we can really do at this point, except let it play out and pray it will all play out the way we’d like it to," said Char De Kehoe, who lives on Thunder Mountain and was evacuated at 3 a.m. Saturday. "It's out of our hands and in good hands."

1,100 emergency notifications were issued Saturday, including evacuation and pre-evacuation. Those numbers have not changed.