USA — A Colorado wildfire that has destroyed 170 homes showed no signs of relenting Thursday as wind gusts of more than 40 mph fueled fears that the flames would move east from the Rocky Mountain foothills and into the heart of Boulder, where some residents were warned to be ready to flee.
Officials worried about a repeat of the devastation in the foothills, where neighborhoods once filled with million-dollar homes and scenic mountain cabins have become piles of smoking rubble. On one lot, only a tennis court survived. Crumbling, ash-covered foundations dotted the landscape.
Authorities told residents in west Boulder to be prepared to evacuate if the wildfire moved into town, urging people to remove lawn furniture and brush and propane tanks that could fuel the blaze. The city also was mowing grass in open spaces to reduce potential fuel, and telling residents to do the same.
The city encouraged residents to fill up their gas tanks and park their cars pointed toward the road for a speedy getaway. Locals also were urged to wet down yards and vegetation and pack important documents, medication and other items in case they have to flee.
But the leader of the national team that took over management of the fire seemed to downplay the threat. Jim Thomas told reporters late Thursday that he didn’t see imminent danger for Boulder, although he added that conditions can change and there’s always a risk of a major fire spreading.
“I’m not aware of any real threat to the city of Boulder right now,” Thomas said.
A containment line has been dug around about 30% of the fire, although the line isn’t continuous. Thomas said he couldn’t predict when the fire would be fully contained. Earlier, officials had estimated the blaze’s scope at 7,100 acres, but Thursday night they put it at 6,300 acres, or about 10 square miles.
Boulder, a city of about 100,000, is home to the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal laboratory best known for running the atomic clock that’s used to maintain official U.S. time.
By Thursday evening, sprinklers were running in the yards in parts of west Boulder and people were putting bags in their cars.
Joe Glynn was hosing down his northwest Boulder yard as his 9-year-old son, Daniel, sprayed water on city-owned open space next door. His family was packing bags and taking other steps in case they had to flee, but Glynn who has witnessed two other wildfires said he would stay behind and protect his home of 19 years.
“I’m going to stand on the roof with a hose if necessary,” he said.