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Family films frantic escape from Colorado wildfire

By Ashley Hayes, CNN
March 29, 2012 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Some residents are being allowed to return to their homes
  • A Colorado family captures harrowing escape from a wildfire on video
  • The flames kill a husband and wife
  • The governor suspends "controlled" fires until an investigation is completed

(CNN) -- The cell-phone video shows a scene straight out of hell: a darkness lit only by billowing smoke, tinted orange and red from nearby flames, as a vehicle hurtles toward safety.

"Daddy?" says a small, tearful voice, tinged with panic.

"We're going to make it," Doug Gulick tells his child. "We're going to be fine."

"Where's Mom?" the child says, then, urgently, "Why is she stopping?"

Kaleb Gulick, 13, shot the video in the car with his father as his family, in two cars, fled a deadly Colorado wildfire that crept too close to their home earlier this week.

Firefighters were hoping to make more progress Thursday on containing the fire, which has burned more than 4,000 acres in a mountainous area near Denver.

With improving conditions, some evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes Thursday morning, the Jefferson County sheriff's office said.

The Colorado Forest Service apologized for the wildfire after it was revealed that it was caused by a "controlled" burn that got out of control, killing at least two people.

Colorado wildfires out of control

"This is heartbreaking and we're sorry," State Forester Joe Duda told reporters Wednesday about the Lower North Fork Fire, which has scorched 4,140 acres in Jefferson County, destroying or damaging 27 houses and leaving a woman missing in addition to the two fatalities.

The revelation pushed Gov. John Hickenlooper to suspend such burns. A team is being formed to investigate how last Thursday's controlled burn re-erupted on Monday as a wildfire.

"The loss of life and property this week is devastating and this fire is far from being contained," he said in a news release. "That's why our top priority remains working to control the blaze," Hickenlooper said.

He suspended the use of prescribed burns by state agencies on state lands -- including state parks, refuges, State Land Board lands and any agency that manages lands -- or under contract on nonstate lands, such as by the Colorado State Forest Service. The suspension will be effective until the review of protocols and procedures of prescribed burning is complete.

Doug Gulick told CNN on Thursday as the family loaded the cars, "the last thing I saw was this large flame shot up, and we realized we had to go right then."

"We turned that corner and went from daylight into pure darkness," he said.

Gulick's wife, Kim Olson, was in the vehicle in front of her husband. She explained Thursday she put the brakes on -- prompting her child's panic -- because she was fumbling for the headlights in the darkness, and because she hesitated, wondering if the family was going to make it out or whether she and Gulick should turn around.

But then, she said, their neighbor went "flying" past them, and she decided to keep going.

"There it is, right there," Doug Gulick tells the children on the video as they pass flames.

"Oh, my gosh!" a child exclaims, and Gulick soothes them as the sky brightens, "We're out. We're out."

Kaleb Gulick said his father handed him the phone and "I just did my best to capture the whole experience."

Olson said their home was still standing as of Tuesday, when they saw an aerial shot of its roof line and that of their neighbor. She said she has received word that firefighters are camping out on her driveway and her neighbor's, putting out spot fires.

Their home is not out of danger yet, she said, but the family is "still hoping for the best."

And as firefighters work to extinguish the blaze, the search continues for a woman missing since the fast-moving wildfire swept through her home. A search and rescue team of 32 people and six dogs searched 60 acres Wednesday around her house and found no sign of the woman, said Jacki Kelley, a public information officer with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

Firefighters have dropped 4,100 gallons of fire retardant on the blaze, which was fueled by high winds and dry conditions, officials said.

Jefferson County Coroner John Graham identified the two victims as a married couple, Samuel Lucas, 77, and Linda Lucas, 76. "They were found very close together," Kelley said. "One was found outside; one was found inside."

Officials were trying to determine why the couple did not leave the fire zone by Monday night.

CNN's Michael Martinez, Tina Burnside, Phil Gast, Darrell Calhoun, Josh Levs, Shawn Nottingham, Dave Hennen, and Sarah Dillingham contributed to this report.

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