Brint Lukens was far from thrilled that his family’s historic cabin in the Poudre Canyon was destroyed by the Cameron Peak Fire. But he was thrilled no firefighters lost their lives trying to save the 127-year-old structure.
Some have wondered how 54 structures, including 25 homes, could have burned to the ground by the blaze given the fire management team’s methodical strategy of establishing fire lines to keep such destruction from happening.
Lukens, who lives in Lakewood, said the photos he received of the destruction of his family trust’s Twin Pines cabin, 10 outbuildings and 7 acres left little doubt how such destruction could happen. He said the photos showed the buildings were reduced to ash piles and the surrounding landscape completely denuded.
“It looked like a moonscape,” said Lukens, whose grandfather bought the property in 1942. “The firefighters were in there at some point, though it doesn’t look like to me that if they had stayed it would have done any good; the fire was too hot. And they could have gotten trapped in that narrow valley and would have been killed. I don’t blame the firefighters; there was nothing they could do. They had to get out of there.”
Many of those buildings were burned on Labor Day, Sept. 7, as the fire quadrupled in size over three days to more than 102,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in Larimer County history and one of the largest in Colorado history. Lukens learned of his family’s loss from Larimer County emergency staff after assessment teams were able to gain access to the properties four days later.
The fire ran just south of Archer’s Poudre River Resort, burned the historic Pinehurst property about a half mile away but spared the historic Fairkyte property a mile away. All the properties date to the late 1800s.
“It’s like when a tornado destroys one house but the barn remains standing,” Lukens said. “In a fire, the wind determines the luck of the draw of what buildings are destroyed and what buildings remain.”
Homes in the Monument Gulch area south of where Lukens lost his home fared much worse. The fire destroyed 23 residential structures, two of which were primary residences, and multiple outbuildings.
“I don’t know why they weren’t in there on Sunday doing something, sprinklers, whatever,” he told the TV station. “You expect what they are doing is going to work. And the hope is it does work. But obviously not enough.’’
Firefighters had established protective lines in both areas, near Colorado Highway 14 and Pingree Park Road. But the extreme weather conditions consisting of temperatures in the 80s, relative humidity in the single digits and wind gusting to more than 50 mph fanned the flames out of control, according to Reghan Cloudman, Roosevelt National Forest spokeswoman. That combined with heavy, dry fuel loads left from dead beetle-kill trees to create conditions that were overwhelming.
“We had meteorologists looking at the weather, and we knew it had the potential to quickly grow,” Cloudman said. “We looked at the landscape where we thought we could make the best stand along the Pingree Park Road. But at some point the fire was moving so quickly because of the wind that we couldn’t stop it.”
Cloudman said firefighters had done fire mitigation work in the area but could not speak to specifically where and when that work was done. She said also hindering efforts was the fact the perimeter of the fire stretches 237 miles, with many structures in the area needing protection.
“Our hearts go out to those who lost property,” Cloudman said. “Seeing what is happening in other fires in the West, we are very thankful everyone has been able to evacuate safely.”
There have been no injuries reported to firefighters or the public since the blaze started Aug. 13.
Peggy and Phil Parrott of Denver can count their blessings. The 101-year-old Fairkyte property the family trust owns survived in part. Two cabins were spared, but nearby outbuildings were destroyed.
“We are heartbroken for our friends and neighbors who lost their properties,” Peggy said. “But we are nothing but grateful and overwhelmed by the firefighters who worked so hard under difficult situations. The very nature of our beautiful place is part of the danger they faced, and they did all they could do to protect it.”
Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.