DENVER – As a fast-moving wildfire spread in suburban Denver, an emergency responder warned Edna Nadine Turnbull to evacuate. But the 91-year-old went back inside her home to rescue her dogs.
Turnbull and her pets were never seen again.
Authorities said Wednesday they found small bone fragments that could possibly be Turnbull's on the property, where her house was one of about 1,000 homes and buildings destroyed in the Dec. 30 wildfire.
The dogs were in the house when Turnbull went in to try to retrieve them but the animals did not come out so testing is being conducted to determine if the fragments are human or not, Boulder County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Carrie Haverfield said. The process can take weeks or months to complete, the sheriff's office said in a statement announcing the discovery.
The statement officially confirmed the missing woman's identity for the first time and provided authorities' first account of Turnbull's whereabouts during the fire.
Turnbull lived with her adult granddaughter, Layla Cornell, and with two dogs, two goats and two horses, according to Amy Smith, a family friend, who organized an online fundraiser for the granddaughter, who escaped the fire and is struggling to start over.
Her rural property is at the edge of the former agricultural town of Superior, where subdivisions have sprouted in recent decades, about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) west of where the fire, is believed to have started. It is next to one neighborhood abutting open space that was completely destroyed in the fire and across the street from a large shopping center that includes a Costco where customers were asked to evacuate as smoke filled the parking lot and winds gusted.
A neighbor told KCNC-TV earlier this month that he barely escaped his family’s home in the fire and went to Turnbull’s house to tell her to get out, asking a sheriff’s deputy to come with him. Haverfield declined to comment on neighbor Scotty Roberts' account, saying she could not comment on other details that were part of the ongoing investigation.
Roberts said that as the front door to the home opened and let air inside, the fire went “woosh” and intensified, and the deputy pulled back. Cornell escaped, but Turnbull was tethered to her dogs, and the leashes were wrapped around a table, the station reported.
“I couldn’t pull all of them and the table with me at the same time,” said Roberts, who described the fire as being “everywhere” at that point.
He said he was sorry and ran, said Roberts, who shook with emotion during the interview.