Wildfire forces evacuations near Highlands Ranch

Fire crews battling blaze in backcountry


The Chatridge 2 fire burning near Highlands Ranch grew to more than 460 acres Monday afternoon, but fire officials said the blaze had stopped progressing toward homes in a nearby subdivision.

South Metro Fire Rescue cautioned on Twitter that "there's still a lot of work to be done containing the flanks and smoke will continue to drift into Highlands Ranch."

Nearly 60 units were battling the wildfire, supported by a heavy presence from firefighting airplanes and helicopters.  

South Metro Fire Rescue crews began working to contain the blaze at roughly 10 a.m. on June 29.  The fire in unincorporated Douglas County near U.S. Highway 85 forced mandatory evacuations of the BackCountry subdivision near Highlands Ranch, growing to 267 acres in less than three hours. 

Red Cross volunteer Lori Halverson, who was stationed at the evacuation site at ThunderRidge High School, was mountain biking the morning of the fire and saw it in its early stages, she said. At 9:47 that morning, she called 911 and reported it. 

“I was riding my bike in the backcountry and came across a little dust swirl,” she said. “Then I caught wind of the smoke and I was like ‘ok no it’s definitely a fire.’”
About 50  cars sat at the high school as evacuees  waited for the fire to be contained. Residents were largely calm with many chatting with neighbors. 
One family from a different Highlands Ranch neighborhood decided to drive through the parking lot and offer free popsicles and dog treats. 
Ryan Miller, 8, wore winter gloves as he handed them out. 
“We just saw that there are kids and wanted to come out here,” he said. “I think they’re liking them”
The Golding family, like many residents, brought their pets with them as they evacuated and spent the afternoon trying to keep the animals cool and calm. Unlike the many dog owners in the evacuation parking lot, the Golding family had two guinea pigs, a hampster and a cat. 
“We were nervous because we have all these animals,” Debbie Golding said. 
Golding's only complaint during the evacuation is that she didn't get any information directly from emergency responders, she heard from a neighbor that they were under a mandatory evacuation, she said. 
"I never thought I'd say it, but I want to go home," she said from the TRHS parking lot about an hour before residents were allowed to return home.

By 1:45 p.m., flames reached Skydance Drive in Highlands Ranch. Video footage shared by South Metro showed smoke billowing around homes as firefighters worked to protect structures.

But no structures had been damaged and there were no reported injuries. 

The fire initially was reported near Chatridge Court and Highway 85.

Shortly before 12:30 p.m., crews had the fire roughly 60% contained, according to the South Metro fire agency. The blaze was still at moderate risk of spreading at that time. 

Several aircraft were in the area providing support to firefighters. Crews successfully protected two homes as they battled "very gusty winds, dry vegetation and difficult terrain," according to South Metro Fire Rescue. 

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said it issued 964 "code red" emergency notifications to the community.

The Highlands Ranch Law Enforcement Training Facility near Highway 85 and Ron King Trail was evacuated as a precaution, the sheriff's office said. 

Video of the fire posted by South Metro Fire Rescue on Twitter showed firefighters walking along scorched fields surrounded by smoke. 

For many, the event was time consuming and uncomfortable.
Resident Ed Schroback evacuated from his home in the Backcountry neighborhood at about 11 a.m.
"It was really inconvenient and now we have no power. The food in the refrigerator could go bad," he said after the fire was mostly contained.  "It was really inconvenient and it was really scary."


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