Wildfire west of Boulder stirs memories, forces evacuations

Wildfire west of Boulder stirs memories, forces evacuations

30 October 2010

published by www.denverpost.com

USA —  Flames raced up the north side of Boulder Canyon on Friday morning, charring more than 140 acres and sending a plume of smoke over the city, a hazy reminder of the devastating Fourmile Canyon blaze that gripped the foothills two months ago.

“It’s got to be horrible for the people who just went through this,” said Betsy Molnar, who stood outside the Whole Foods store at 29th and Pearl streets Friday afternoon, watching tankers drop fire retardant on the ridge near Mount Sanitas. “It’s very sad.”

The Dome fire erupted about 8:10 a.m. about a quarter-mile west of Elephant Buttress, above Dome Rock on the north side of Boulder Canyon.

Fanned by winds gusting to 35 mph, the blaze quickly spread across 144 acres, forcing the evacuation of west Boulder and foothills neighborhoods, including some that were threatened in the Fourmile fire.

About 100 firefighters from 20 agencies, aided by one single-engine tanker and one heavy tanker, fought the blaze as it licked the ridgetops west of town all day.

The roster was expected to swell to 200 firefighters by Friday night, said city of Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley.

In all, 1,600 homes received automated emergency notification calls ordering occupants to evacuate. The evacuation orders were to remain in place until at least this morning.

“We are still concerned about the winds and the fire’s proximity to the city,” Huntley said Friday evening.

An overnight shelter for evacuees opened at 7 p.m. at the East Boulder Community Center, 5660 Sioux Drive.

City Manager Jane Brautigan said she knew the overnight stay would be difficult for some, but “fire officials tell us this is necessary to ensure public safety, which remains our top priority.”

Police were patrolling the evacuated areas.

Much of the Front Range was under a red-flag warning Friday, suggesting gusty winds and low humidity.

Boulder County sheriff’s Cmdr. Rick Brough said fire meteorologists expected humidity to rise overnight, aiding firefighters as they cut a line around the blaze.

“A lot is going to depend on Mother Nature,” he said. “It is a big concern because of the wind conditions.”

Brough said the fires are burning in grass and trees in steep, rocky terrain.

The Dome fire differs from the Fourmile because it didn’t begin close to homes, allowing air support and ground crews to get a jump on the blaze rather than having to protect structures, he said.

Electricity was cut Friday morning, stilling busy Pearl Street restaurants during the noon hour as power transmission lines were rerouted around lines in the fire zone.

At the West End Tavern, the typical busy Friday lunch and afternoon crowds never materialized.

About 2:30 p.m., the bar was empty, and only a few customers were in the typically busy tavern.

Bartender Hannah Lloyd said power went out about 11:15 a.m. and didn’t come back until about noon. Staff was weighing whether to open. One waitress who lives north of Pearl Street went home to pack her bags in case she had to flee.

“Normally, it’s slammed” on a Friday, Lloyd said.

“This is not typical at all.”

Customers may have stayed away after seeing the smoke or news accounts of power outages, Lloyd said.

“Or they are gearing up for Friday night on Halloween weekend,” she said.

Two friends sitting on the sun-splashed patio at Old Chicago had a bird’s-eye view of the planes and the ridge to the west where firefighters were battling the blaze.

One, Joe Guentert of Cincinnati, was visiting Mark Arbitrio of Superior.

They had come to Boulder to play nine holes of golf. They had stopped for nachos and beer.

“We’ve been watching the planes coming and going,” Guentert said. “It’s something to watch.”

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