Thousands forced to evacuate as Buffalo Fire burns near Silverthorne

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – A wildfire that started on Buffalo Mountain near Silverthorne Tuesday morning grew quickly, forcing more than 1,300 homes to be evacuated and putting another 1,160 households on a pre-evacuation notice.

PHOTOS: Buffalo Fire burning near Silverthorne forces thousands to evacuate

The Buffalo Fire, as it has been dubbed, was first spotted at about 10:45 a.m. Tuesday. By 11 a.m., the Mesa Cortina and Wildernest area north of Twenty Grand Road had been placed under mandatory evacuation orders, and the area below Twenty Grand Road was put on pre-evacuation orders.

The fire was estimated as being 100 acres in size Tuesday night, with 0 percent containment.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 1,384 residences were in the mandatory evacuation area, where Xcel Energy also cut power Tuesday afternoon, and 1,160 households were under pre-evacuation notices—meaning they are allowed to stay in their homes but must be packed and ready to leave within 20 minutes’ notice.

Local officials gave an update on the status of evacuations and the fire at a 4 p.m. news conference, which you can watch here or in the player embedded below.

"Things are looking really good around both subdivisions," said Jim Genung, with the U.S. Forest Service fuels team. He said the biggest factor Tuesday afternoon was that fuel breaks put into the area over the past several years were "saving several thousand homes from having fire in them."

MAP: Here are the major wildfires currently burning in Colorado

Smoke levels as of 4 p.m. were "not a significant health concern" but could become worse overnight, officials said. You can check on current smoke levels and health department alerts here.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a statement on the fires burning across the state Tuesday.

“Colorado has allocated more resources for fire fighting than any other state in the Rocky Mountain West. We have seven interagency heavy air tankers fighting the Colorado fires and, through experience, we have learned how to integrate our state resources with our federal, county and municipal resources,” he said. “We recognize the conditions are dry and hot. Public health and safety are the top priorities in fighting any fire. If you are in the fire zones, please follow safety procedures and directives. Our state agencies are here to support you. As we have proved time and time again, Coloradans are resilient.”

Officials also held a community meeting Tuesday evening regarding the fire, which is available here or embedded in the player below.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 50 firefighters on the ground and another 100 on their way, with several aircraft at the site dropping retardant and water, according to Summit County. More aircraft are expected to join the fight Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but authorities said Tuesday that there was no weather in the area that could have sparked such a fire, hinting that it was likely human-caused.

Resources for area residents

Crews are hoping to keep the fire from jumping the well-established fire break around the Mesa Cortina and Wildernest area, according to Summit Fire. Residents with questions about this wildfire are asked to call the public hotline at 970-668-9730. It will be open until about 10 p.m. Tuesday and will reopen Wednesday morning at 7 a.m.

There is also an overnight emergency shelter is set up at Frisco Elementary, located at 800 8th Ave., which opened at 8 p.m. and has full support from the Red Cross.

Summit Stage, a free public transit system in the county, is helping those without transportation to evacuate the Mesa Cortina and Wildernest areas. 

Residents who left pets at home can call the Summit County Animal Control hotline at 970-668-4143 to help retrieve the animals.

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