Thousands wait to see if homes near Boulder burned
Associated Press Writers
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) – Thousands of people waited Thursday to learn if their homes survived a wildfire that’s raged for four days in a parched area near Boulder as firefighters battled to contain the blaze before winds picked up.
Dan Hackett, who lives in the mountain community of Gold Hill, said he watched his neighbor’s home burn.
“The house 200 feet from my house is gone,” Hackett said Wednesday before hiking two miles behind roadblocks to check for a second time that his house was still standing.
Others were expected to be able to check on their property Thursday when evacuation orders were set to be lifted in four neighborhoods in the foothills west of Boulder.
News that some people will get to go home four days after the blaze erupted drew applause from the crowd of about 600 at a public meeting Wednesday night. However, authorities warned that they needed to be prepared to leave again if the fire shifts.
The anger that has flared as homeowners have shouted questions at officials during news briefings was absent, and applauded when speakers mentioned the firefighters. Nine volunteer firefighters have lost their homes.
“I understand people are angry, they’re anxious, they want to go home,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said during the public meeting. “Please be patient with us.”
The wait to get back into homes will be longer for many of the 3,500 evacuated from about 1,000 homes. At least 135 of those homes have been destroyed, making the blaze one of the most destructive in Colorado’s history.
That dire assessment came as firefighters were able to contain about 10 percent of the blaze that has scorched about 6,200 acres, or roughly 10 square miles. It was the first time officials reported being able to hold any part of the 20-mile-long fire perimeter.
Firefighters were hoping to make more progress Thursday before evening, when gusty winds and lower humidity were expected to move in. The National Weather Service said wind gusts could reach 45 to 60 mph by midnight.
The reported loss of homes surpasses that of the 2002 Hayman fire in southern Colorado that was the most destructive in the state’s history. That fire destroyed 133 homes and 466 outbuildings over 138,000 acres in a more sparsely populated area that includes national forest land.
The Boulder fire’s toll is likely to rise as firefighters get a clearer picture of the damage. Four people remained unaccounted for, but no deaths or injuries have been reported.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
Firefighters took advantage of cooler weather and light rain to attack the wildfire Wednesday, and air tankers dumped fire retardant on the flames. A total of 100,000 gallons of retardant has been used and firefighting costs have reached $2.1 million so far.
Fire managers said as many as 500 firefighters and support personnel are at the fire and more are on the way. Laura McConnell, spokeswoman for the management team, said crews are dealing with downed power lines, debris, poison ivy and rattlesnakes. They also have to watch for propane tanks in the area.
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