Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Thousands flee fierce Colorado wildfire

A fierce wildfire west of Boulder, Colo., which destroyed dozens of homes and caused 3,000 people to flee Monday, continued to rage uncontained Tuesday afternoon.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle says the fire has burned about 7,100 acres, or 11 square miles. Authorities previously estimated the fire at 3,500 acres. Additional evacuations are expected.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter says he has declared a state of emergency and authorized $5 million for the fire.
According to Mike Banuelos, Boulder County public information officer, as of Tuesday afternoon, there is no information about containment yet.
About 175 firefighters from 30 local agencies are battling the blaze, he said.
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Four homes belonging to firefighters were destroyed. Those firefighters were allowed to leave to attend to their families and personal affairs, said Laura McConnell, a spokeswoman for the fire management team.
The weather is far better for firefighters Tuesday than it was Monday. "We have nothing like the extreme conditions we had yesterday," said Chad Gimmestad, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Boulder.
He said Monday's wild winds and parched, hot conditions helped spread the fire. "At the top of the ridges, winds blew at 40-50 mph for several hours," Gimmestad said. The wind was coupled with humidity levels of 5% to 10%, a day after a near-record high of 94 degrees was recorded.
"The fire moved too quickly and was much more active than anticipated," said Brett Haberstick of the Sunshine Fire Protection District.
It's still unclear what sparked the Fourmile Canyon Fire, as it has been named, although authorities are investigating reports that the fire started Monday when a car crashed into a propane tank.
"We do have an investigative team set up that has started to investigate the cause of the fire and go up into the burned area to document what structures have been involved, what structures have been destroyed," Cmdr. Rick Brough of the Boulder County Emergency Management said during a Tuesday morning news conference.
Although no injuries have been reported in the wildfire, a number of people woke up Tuesday fearing the loss of their homes.
Nancy Engellenner and her husband, Philip Helper, assume their house was lost because so much was destroyed in the surrounding area.
"The way the wind was, it was just spitting flames everywhere," Engellenner said.
Resident David Myers also feared his house burned after he fled. At one point, he said heavy smoke obscured flames from the fire but he could still hear it. He described the sound as a cross between a freight train and a long roll of thunder.
"You can hear the crackling, you can hear just this consumption of fuel, just crackling and burning. And the hardest thing is you couldn't see it because at the point the smoke was that thick. And at that point, it was time to go," he said.
The weather for the rest of the week in the area should continue to be dry and windy, predicts Gimmestad, with little chance of rain.