ESTES PARK, Colo. - Approximately 1,100 evacuation notices were sent out Saturday when the Fern Lake Fire was roused by high winds and propelled 3 miles in 35 minutes.
Several hundred people were evacuated and others were warned to prepare for the possibility of evacuation.
About 250 displaced residents descended on the Red Cross shelter at Estes Park High School before the sun came up Saturday morning. The number dwindled throughout the day as the Red Cross helped them find places to go and the shelter was empty by approximately 7 p.m.
Stacy Rodenlandel was at the YMCA of the Rockies for a weekend retreat when the fire threatened the area and heavy smoke began to roll in.
"It made everyone sick up there. It made me sick," she said.
The kind of natural disaster that plagued Colorado all summer long is making a cameo in early December.
"We're usually dealing with storms and outages and that kind of thing, snow, ice," said Red Cross volunteer Janice Mount.
"I'm very concerned. I'm very scared. I don't know what's going to happen," said evacuee Amiee Baudino. "I just hope that the guys can get it out and that everybody's safe and that they don't lose anymore structures."
Officials had believed the fire, which began on Oct. 9, was under control. The winds early Saturday morning, they said, came as a surprise.
The fire was woken out of its slumber by 75 mph winds, throwing embers a mile in front of the fire and running 3 miles in 35 minutes. It was mapped at 3,584 acres Saturday evening, more than double the 1,515 acres mapped earlier.
"What happened to us last night was a rather unexpected wind event," said Traci Weaver, spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain National Park.
"It's a nice theory to let fires burn if you know you're going to have two feet of snow and no wind come fall, but we haven't had either of those situations," said Estes Park resident Ken Coles.
Coles and his family went to the shelter to look for a friend.
"We think she might be here, so we wanted to check on her and see if she wanted to come home and stay at our house instead of in the gym," he said.
Saturday evening the Red Cross was preparing meals and snacks for evacuees, as well as offering a variety of phone chargers.
The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services team also said it would be providing support for evacuees in Estes Park.
Evacuation Information, as of 5 p.m. today:
- The Highway 66 corridor, including all adjacent streets, remains in evacuation. "At this doesn't make sense from a safety standpoint for those residents to go home tonight," said Larimer County Sheriff's spokesman Nick Christiansen at a 5 p.m. briefing.
- Residents of High Drive and adjacent streets have been notified that they are now on pre-evacuation notice. The residents in this area may return home, presenting identification to law enforcement at the High Drive road block. No others will be allowed in the area.
- Residents who were evacuated earlier today from the west side of Marys Lake Road and all adjacent streets are now allowed to return home and are on pre-evacuation notices. Access to the neighborhood is unrestricted.
- Pre-evacuation means that residents should be prepared to evacuate at any moment.
- A community meeting is set for 7 p.m. in Estes Park (see more info below)
The evacuations began at 1:50 a.m. at the Moraine Park campground, according to John Schultz with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.
Frank Lancaster, town administrator, tweeted Saturday morning that evacuees will be out of their homes for at least 24 to 36 hours.