Colorado wildfires force thousands to evacuate, blaze 'just exploded' to 8,700 acres

The Calwood Fire in Boulder County is the largest blaze in that county's history

Thousands of residents in Colorado have been forced to flee from a fast-moving wildfire that's already destroyed dozens of homes, according to officials. 

The Calwood Fire has now grown to at least 8,788 acres in Boulder County, which is now the largest blaze in the county's history, Mike Wagner, a division chief with the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, said Sunday during a briefing.

"It just exploded," Wagner said after the blaze erupted on Saturday.

NEW WILDFIRES IN UTAH, COLORADO FORCE EVACUATIONS, 0% CONTAINED

The Calwood FIre started around noon Saturday near the Cal-Wood Education Center, located about 17 miles from downtown Boulder before it was fanned by wind gusts of up to 59 mph.

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo.

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)

Brian DeToy told FOX31 he received a call from a friend about fires nearby and was then told less than an hour later about a mandatory evacuation in the area. His family was able to get out five carloads of belongings with the help of friends.

“Our medicines, our cat, some clothing," DeToy told FOX31. 

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo.

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)

On Sunday, he received a call from the sheriff's office that his family's home was along 17 destroyed in the neighborhood.

“It’s an absolute gut punch," DeToy said Sunday. "We’re still numb, we haven’t completely processed it yet. It will take a while. We’re safe and that’s what’s most important."

Officials believe it's likely due to the path of the fire that many homes were lost. Wagner said Sunday that damage assessment teams haven't been able to get into the area to determine how many homes were lost.

Courtney Walsh told The Denver Post she was among those who lost their homes, after having a 30-minute warning to gather up her children, animals and some belongings.

“There were baby books that I didn’t grab, and I’m regretting it,” Walsh said Sunday. “Those are the one thing I always thought, ‘I have to grab those if anything happens,’ and I just didn’t. I froze.”

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More than 1,600 residences and nearly 3,000 people were under evacuation orders, including the small town of Jamestown, Boulder County officials said.

As of late Sunday, the blaze is now 15% contained and has had "no significant growth," as air operations resumed Sunday afternoon. Officials cautioned that the greatest concern was the northern flank, where the canyon and winds with steep terrain allowed the blaze to possibly spread.

Time-lapse videos show the blaze growing over the weekend.

Another fire that started Sunday on private property about 20 miles northwest of Boulder and grew to just over one-third of a square mile led to the evacuation of at least 145 homes, including the small town of Ward, which has about 150 residents, Boulder County officials said.

The largest fire in Colorado history, the Cameron Peak fire, which started in mid-August and is burning west of Fort Collins, has grown to 318 square miles and was 62% contained on Sunday.

More than 1,500 firefighters are working the blaze, according to officials.

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A spot fire east of the main Cameron Peak fire burned homes overnight Friday and into Saturday, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith on Facebook Sunday morning. 

He said homes were lost in The Retreat in Glen Haven, but did not say how many. The sheriff's office will assess the damage and notify homeowners.

There are still 66 large wildfires burning across the West that are greater than 100 acres. 

A look at the wildfires currently burning across the West.

A look at the wildfires currently burning across the West. (Fox News)

The region is experiencing a drought, combined with rounds of heat and gusty winds that have created dangerous fire weather conditions.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.