Firefighters make headway on blaze near Boulder, Colorado

BOULDER, Colo. — Firefighters made progress Sunday in battling a small wildfire that forced people to flee hundreds of homes in the mountains just outside downtown Boulder, Colorado, and ignited dead trees that exploded into black plumes of smoke, authorities and residents said.

Wind was pushing the flames in the wooded area a couple of miles west of Pearl Street, the shopping and dining hub in the heart of the university city. Crews partially contained the fire that had burned just over 60 acres, but officials worried that stronger gusts expected later in the day could fan the flames.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management said 426 homes were evacuated before dawn and residents of an additional 836 were warned to get ready to leave if conditions worsened.

There were no reports of injuries or damage to homes, emergency officials said. Several aircraft were dropping water and retardant on the flames, and a community center has opened as an evacuation shelter.

Officials were not sure how the fire started in the Sunshine Canyon area that is dotted with a mixture of expensive homes and rustic mountain residences.

Seth Frankel, who was warned that he and his family may need to evacuate, said he had packed up "generations of things" that can't be replaced and was ready to go if the air quality got worse.

He said smoke was pouring toward neighborhoods and many dead trees were combusting and sending black smoke into the air less than a half-mile from his home. But he and his wife, a Boulder native, and three daughters have dealt with fires and floods before.

"It's always alarming and always on your mind, but it's not an uncommon sensation around here," said Frankel, who has lived in Boulder for 20 years.

In 2010, a wildfire destroyed nearly 200 houses in the mountainous area west of the city, home to the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Frankel got word of the fire early Sunday from a neighbor who received a warning call, and he was outside with neighbors watching the flames and smoke. But he let his daughters, 9, 11 and 13, sleep in.

"It's still alarming, but there's no panic," Frankel said. "We will be long since gone when parents are no longer smiling."

© The Associated Press Crews battle the Sunshine Fire in the Sunshine canyon area of Boulder, Colo. on Sunday, March 19, 2017. The small wildfire forced people from their homes early Sunday and ignited dead trees that exploded into black plumes of smoke, authorities and residents said. (Jeremy Papasso/Daily Camera via AP)
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Wildfire breaks out near Boulder, Colo., forcing evacuations

Firefighters made progress Sunday in battling a small wildfire that forced people to flee hundreds of homes in the mountains just outside downtown Boulder, Colorado, and authorities said they believe the blaze may have been human-caused.

Light winds pushed the flames in the wooded area a couple of miles west of Pearl Street, the shopping and dining hub in the heart of the university city. Crews partially contained the fire that had burned just over 60 acres, but officials worried that stronger gusts that could fan the flames might develop overnight.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management said 426 homes were evacuated before dawn and residents of an additional 836 were warned to get ready to leave if conditions worsened. The evacuation orders will remain in place overnight, said Boulder County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Wagner.

There were no reports of injuries or damage to homes, emergency officials said. Several aircraft were dropping water and retardant on the flames, and a community center opened as an evacuation shelter.

The fire started in the Sunshine Canyon area, which is dotted with a mixture of expensive homes and rustic mountain residences.

The latest wildfire details from the city of Boulder:
  • Estimate 62 acres
  • Current estimate is 20 percent containment
  • 7 aircraft active
  • Public Call Center line is open for non-emergency calls. 303-413-7730
  • Evacuation and pre-evacuation notices are still in place
  • No reports of loss of property, structures, or of any injuries

Boulder County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Wagner said the area is used by hikers and by transients for camping, leading authorities to believe the blaze was human-caused. Wagner said officials ruled out any lightning strikes or downed power lines.

Wagner said fire crews will monitor the blaze overnight and focus on full containment and mop-up on Monday.

Seth Frankel, who was warned that he and his family may need to evacuate, said he had packed up “generations of things” that can’t be replaced and was ready to go if the air quality got worse.

He said smoke was pouring toward neighborhoods and many dead trees were combusting and sending black smoke into the air less than a half-mile from his home. But he and his wife, a Boulder native, and three daughters have dealt with fires and floods before.

“It’s always alarming and always on your mind, but it’s not an uncommon sensation around here,” said Frankel, who has lived in Boulder for 20 years.

In 2010, a wildfire destroyed nearly 200 houses in the mountainous area west of the city, home to the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Frankel got word of the fire early Sunday from a neighbor who received a warning call, and he was outside with neighbors watching the flames and smoke. But he let his daughters, 9, 11 and 13, sleep in.

“It’s still alarming, but there’s no panic,” Frankel said. “We will be long since gone when parents are no longer smiling.”


Colorado Fire Prompts More Than 1,000 Evacuation Warnings

A wildfire that broke out near Boulder, Colorado, early Sunday morning, prompting officials to send out at least 1,000 evacuation warning calls as the blaze moves within a mile of downtown.

Deemed the Sunshine Fire, the blaze covers an estimated 62 acres of land in Colorado’s Sunshine Valley west of Boulder since breaking out early Sunday morning, the local Office of Emergency Management said. As of 2:30 p.m. local time, the fire was 20 percent contained.

So far, no deaths or injuries have been reported and no homes or structures have been affected.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) authorized the Colorado National Guard to assist Boulder County officials in dropping thousands of gallons of water and fire retardant on the affected area.

Firefighters may be faced with an uphill battle later this afternoon when winds are expected to increase to gusts of 40 miles per hour, but officials are confident weather will not be too much of a hindrance.

“We’re going to continue to fight the fire predominantly from the air as much as we possibly can and leverage the really good weather that we’ve had,” Boulder sheriff’s department public information officer Mike Wagner said this morning. “The winds are a little bit calmer than what we’ve expected and we’re hoping the conditions stay favorable from the forecast as the day goes on.”

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