Thousands evacuated as Boulder grass fires burn out of control

Thousands evacuated as Boulder grass fires burn out of control

8 January 2009

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USA — Wind-driven wildfires forced thousands of residents north of Boulder to evacuate their homes Wednesday afternoon.

Because of the winds, estimated at between 50 and 80 mph, firefighters from throughout the county spent the afternoon trying to protect buildings instead of extinguishing the fires, Boulder County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Phil West said.

“With the grass fire, there’s not a whole lot we can do as long as the wind’s blowing,” West said.

Even U.S. 36 could not act as a firebreak.

“A 30-foot road is not going to stop it,” West said.

The first fire broke out just before 1 p.m. at Rocky Mountain Llamas, 7202 45th St., when a downed power line sparked a fire that quickly spread to a house and barn, West said.

Phil Haas, who lives on the southeast corner of U.S. 36 and Nebo Road, was participating in a Web-based seminar when he saw the house at the llama ranch catch fire.

“From my home office, I saw that house burn down,” Haas said. He estimated the 100-foot-high flames destroyed the house in about 20 minutes.

When Haas called his son about the fire, his son told him another fire was burning above Haas’ house — the Olde Stage Road fire, west of U.S. 36 across from Haas’ house.

The Olde Stage Road Fire started at 1:38 p.m. in the 7200 block of Olde Stage Road, near Dakota Ridge, West said. The fire jumped U.S. 36 between Neva and Nebo roads about 2:30 p.m.

Three homes were destroyed in the fire, but no injuries were reported.

At Joder Arabian Ranch, several people rushed to save the horses as the fire began to make its way over the ridge. Horse owners brought trucks and trailers to the highway to help evacuate the horses.

By midafternoon, about 75 firefighters and 30 firefighting trucks from nearly every Boulder County fire district had been called to fight the fire, West said. Firefighters and trucks from the Loveland and Berthoud departments also arrived to help.

Smoke from the fire prompted authorities to close U.S. 36 between Broadway, in north Boulder, and Hygiene.

Shortly before 3 p.m., Haas had not been told to evacuate. There were only a few things he was concerned about saving, he said.

“There’s nothing I care about that much,” he said. “I can be out of here in no time.”

The Olde Stage Road fire was the closest a fire has been to his house in the 12 or 13 years he has lived there, Haas said.

“Something like this is bound to happen with winds like this,” Haas said, adding that he had heard the wind was gusting to 90 mph.

About two hours later, a firetruck was posted in front of Haas’ house and his neighbor’s house. It’s not clear when they evacuated their homes. To the north, fields were burned out, and more fire was rushing up a hill on the east side of U.S. 36.

County officials used an automated phone system to notify more than 11,000 residents that they might need to evacuate, West said.

Originally, the evacuation area was about a 1-mile radius around 49th Street and Neva Road, but that expanded as the fire moved. The Lake Valley subdivision, which has 300 homes, was probably the most populated area that had to be evacuated, West said.

After winds shifted at dusk, the evacuation area expanded to the south, to the 5400 block of Lee Hill Drive.

“Hopefully, we won’t lose any more houses,” West said.

The Olde Stage Road Fire was still burning Wednesday night and had burned about 1,000 acres, according to Boulder County officials.

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