CRIPPLE CREEK • Bennett Avenue was alive with Fourth of July festivities Wednesday. Light rock music wafted from open doors, gamblers dressed in Americana sunned on patios and families slurped melting ice cream. It was a happy scene, oblivious to the more stoic mood half a mile away at the fairgrounds where the Noah family, evacuated amid the High Chateau fire, was keeping vigilant watch over its Holstein cow AnnaBelle, who is ready to give birth any day.
As far as the Noahs know, flames have yet to touch their 40-acre farm outside Florissant, but that could change in a minute. AnnaBelle’s impending birth is their welcome distraction from the what-ifs.
“We’d like a little miracle through all of this because we don’t know when we’ll get to go home,” Julie Noah said. “We decided to call the baby Smokey.”
They are among dozens who have been evacuated because of the fire, which has been burning since Friday. Authorities estimate residents of 75 properties remain affected, despite the Teller County Sheriff’s Office removing all roadblocks Wednesday morning and lifting some evacuation orders, allowing many families to return home for the holiday.
“Folks, it’s a good day and I’m glad we’re able to go back home, but remember, there’s still fire up there,” Sheriff Jason Mikesell said during the afternoon fire briefing in Florissant.
As of Wednesday evening, firefighters had gained 75 percent containment and less than 1,500 acres had burned.
“It’s been a good couple of days,” Mikesell said. “We’re having a lot of wins.”
But as Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Commander Todd Pechota warns, the community isn’t free from danger yet. Depending on the weather, residents should be ready to pick up and leave again at a moment’s notice.
“It is not over; it is not zero risk,” Pechota said.
Resident Steve Morris said he’s just happy to be getting updates.
He counts himself among the lucky. Though he believes the fire “originated very, very close to my house” near Hawk Lane and Chateau Vista, so far his home remains standing. One firefighter told him they had two trucks stationed at his property, ready to douse flames that strayed too close.
“That made me feel better to know firefighters are standing guard at my property with due diligence,” Morris said.
Clif Moffat also has been encouraged by the firefighting efforts, which so far have saved his “retirement” home despite scorching 30 acres of his property in the Spring Valley area, which remains under evacuation.
He said his family moved in from Omaha, Neb., on June 4, but the one-month anniversary is not one they’re celebrating, even if it’s also a holiday.
“Living in Nebraska for 30 years, you see these wildfire stories and you just think, ‘Oh, another one.’ But you live this and it’s real,” Moffat said. “My whole family’s life is turned upside down now. … One spark, that’s all it takes.”
Like many evacuees, Moffat said he isn’t in the mood for fireworks, and he hopes others aren’t either.
Teller County remains in a Stage III burn ban, which prohibits the use of propane barbecues, gas stoves or lanterns, smoking outdoors, pellet stoves, natural gas-fueled warming fires and electric stoves, as well as fireworks, campfires, barbecuing on charcoal grills, tossing cigarette butts outside and target shooting on public land.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Mikesell said, deputies already had written 17 citations for violations in Woodland Park and Cripple Creekand worries what the Fourth, “the night of fireworks,” will bring.
“Don’t do it,” Mikesell said during the fire briefing to cheers from residents and one call to “string (violators) up.”
“We’re all in this together in this county,” Mikesell said.
Recalling the early smoke plume filling the sky not far from their farm, Noah said her family initially felt isolated as they rushed to pack what they could, such as clothes and wedding bands, and then the animals — three horses and three cows.
They were confused and scared but now are serene, nestled at the fairgrounds barns where they help keep watch over their neighbors’ horses, donkeys, geese, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, cats and dogs also taking refuge from the fire.
The Fourth, for them, passed without fireworks or fanfare, but the spirit of the holiday still lingers, Noah said.
“You know what, we have a lot to celebrate,” Noah said. “The Fourth of July is about community, and I’ve met more of my neighbors and helped more of my neighbors through this than I ever would have. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”