Drought-fueled colorado wildfire forces hundreds to evacuate

Drought-fueled colorado wildfire forces hundreds to evacuate

19 March 2017

published by https://www.washingtonpost.com

USA — A wildfire burning just outside Boulder, Colo., has caused hundreds of residents to flee and has put more than 800 homes on notice that they might have to leave next as authorities battle the fire amid drought conditions.

There were no reports of significant property damage or injuries caused by the fire near Sunshine Canyon, west of the city, said Gabi Boerkircher, a spokeswoman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

As of late Sunday, the fire — which had spread to a little more than 60 acres — was about 50 percent contained. The temperature Sunday had been forecast to reach a high of 76 degrees, with possible high winds in the afternoon.

“Not a great day to be fighting a fire, that’s for sure,” Boerkircher said. She said that more than 400 homes had received an order to evacuate and that 836 more had been put on notice to be ready to go if conditions were to worsen.

Evacuation calls to residents went out through the reverse 911 system in the middle of the night. Sam and Coila Maphis slept through their 2 a.m. call — a pre-evacuation notice telling them to get ready to go — but were roused when a neighbor began banging on their back window at 4:30 a.m. They packed financial documents, passports and a jewelry box into their car and waited. In the dark pre-dawn hours, they could clearly see the fire burning; they said it looked like a sunset sitting on top of a dark ridge.

“It was very, very vivid. You could really see the crimson, orange and red. And then it came over the ridge, started to walk down the hill,” said Sam Maphis, a retired engineer. “That’s when we started to get worried.”

Responders to the fire included eight aircraft that dropped a fire retardant called “slurry” on the area, according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. The cause of the fire is not yet known, Boerkircher said.

Eastern Colorado has been in a drought for the past three to four weeks. March is normally the snowiest month, with an average of more than 11 inches of snow in Denver. But more than halfway through the month, the area has gotten no snow and just 0.02 inches of rain, according to Natalie Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder.

“This is very abnormal,” Sullivan said. “We’ve had dry conditions, low relative humidities, high winds, and all of those put together means that if a fire were to start, there’s a chance it could spread very rapidly.”

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