TELLER COUNTY • The first residents to flee their homes in the path of the High Chateau fire a week ago will be the last to return.
They’ll also be facing the most property damage from the blaze that burned 10 homes — up from the seven the Teller County Sheriff’s Office announced on Tuesday — and a yet unknown number of barns, other outbuildings, campers and vehicles.
Ron and Kathy Vickers aren’t sure what they’ll find when they get to go home, most likely Friday.
The most they’ve seen of their house for the past week is a tiny dot through binoculars from a high vantage point outside Cripple Creek.
“Getting those eyeballs on our house has been the best thing,” Ron said.
The couple and other residents of the High Chateau and Highland Meadows subdivisions northwest of Cripple Creek stood in a long line Thursday at a disaster assistance center the American Red Cross set up at Summit Elementary School in Divide.
The majority of the 1,700 mandatory evacuees returned home Wednesday, but a few hundred in the two neighborhoods most affected by the fire are still waiting for the go-ahead.
Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell anticipates that will be Friday morning after crews contained 91 percent of the perimeter Thursday.
Rain helped firefighters secure the fire line around the 1,400-plus-acre burn area, but the steep, rocky eastern edge remained difficult to navigate, officials said.
The cause of the fire han’t been determined, Mikesell said. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and five sheriff’s deputies are investigating, he said.
Evacuees from High Chateau and Highland Meadows obtained vehicle passes at the disaster center Thursday so they’ll be able to enter their subdivisions when they reopen.
They also were fortified with cleaning supplies, information about health and human services, veterans services, counseling and other available assistance.
They walked out of the school carrying shovels, rakes, brooms, bleach, coolers and other items to help them re-enter their properties. The electricity and gas have been shut off to the homes since the evacuations, leaving spoiling food, along with ash, dust and smoke damage.
Les Grenfell is hoping to find out what’s what at his house before he has to go back to work Friday night at the gold mine in Victor.
“This is not how I wanted to spend my seven days off,” he said. “I had a lot a lot yard work to do.”
He may have even more now.
The fire burned up to the front and back doors of some of the homes that were saved, Mikesell told attendees of Thursday’s community briefing — the final meeting scheduled.
“I drove through the area this morning, and it was amazing to see a fire of this ability and we didn’t lose more structures,” he said. “Your firefighters have worked diligently for you.”
Mikesell said the strict Stage 3 fire ban he implemented on Tuesday for Teller County, which extends open burning restrictions to include propane grills, will remain in place despite some rain Wednesday and Thursday.
“This rain is not enough,” he said. “We’ve been in a dry spell for a long time.”
Some stores in Teller County are not selling firewood, charcoal, lighter fluid and small propane bottles because of the Stage 3 fire ban, which does not include the cities of Woodland Park, Victor and Cripple Creek because they are governed by municipal rules.
The federal Type 1 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team is pulling out on Friday, said Incident Commander Todd Pechota.
The High Chateau fire will revert to state and county authority, and then solely county responders to address flare-ups, smoke and other lingering after effects that Mikesell said may continue for another few weeks.
“It would shock me if anything fire-related would prevent the sheriff from getting you back home early tomorrow,” Pechota said, producing applause and cheers.
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