92 Structures Lost As State Of Emergency In Force

Number Of Homes Lost To Fire Continues To Rise

At least 92 structures have been lost and Gov. Bill Ritter has declared a state of emergency to help fund firefighting efforts as scores of firefighters battled the worst fire Boulder County has seen in 50 years.

The new figure of 92 structures destroyed was released during an 8 p.m. news conference in Boulder. Officials said eight structures have been damaged and later released a partial list of the homes lost.

The Fourmile Canyon Fire had grown to 7,120 acres by Tuesday morning -- more than 11 square miles, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said earlier. The fire still has not been contained.

At an earlier 4 p.m. news conference, officials said the fire was pushing north, northeast and northwest in the area of Pine Brook Hills, Lefthand Canyon and areas of Sunshine Canyon.

"There is continuing, active, aggressive fire throughout the fire perimeter," said Don Whittemore, assistant chief of the Rocky Mountain Fire Protection District. Unfortunately today (Tuesday), we continue to lose some structures."

Whittemore said the priority is public safety, firefighter safety and to have additional resources available to continue to try and save homes.

"As hotshots (federal firefighters) come in, we've started to be able to put in some fire containment lines, although a small percentage," he said.

More than 70 subdivisions have been evacuated in the foothills above Boulder since the fire broke out Monday morning. Almost 8,000 emergency notifications have been sent out.

About a dozen people have refused to evacuate, according to the sheriff.

Pelle called it a complex fire and said a lot of homes have been lost, including the homes of nine volunteer firefighters.

"That is a testament to the commitment, bravery and dedication (of firefighters). While they were out saving someone else's home, their home is burning down," Whittemore said.

“It is my understanding that most of Gold Hill has been saved," Boulder Fire Chief Larry Donner told the Boulder City Council on Tuesday night.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials announced that 63 structures had been lost in the fire, but said that number was preliminary and only half of the burned area had been surveyed. The 63 number was updated from 43 during the same news conference.

This image was shot in infrared in order to see through most of the smoke. Vegetation appears red. Burned areas appear dark green.

Minutes after the news conference, live video from Airtracker7 showed additional structures burning in the fire, including a two-story rectangular building that resembled a church or school. The video was taken on the east side of fire.

More than 600 firefighters from 35 fire agencies around the region are expected on the fire line on Wednesday, officials said Tuesday night.

"We have a tremendous amount of federal resources on order and in route. We have literally exhausted our local resources," Pelle said.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the command of the firefighting efforts was turned over to the federal team, called a Type II team. A Type I team is expected to take over later this week.

Reverse phone calls made to residents as part of the emergency notification system had two failures Monday, Pelle said. The system failures are under investigation.

Fire Behavior, Fire Suppression Is Weather Dependent

Winds were calm Tuesday morning, but a temperature inversion layer kept air tankers grounded in the morning, as the layer kept smoke close to the ground, obscuring the fire lines.

"We had seven slurry bombers, three helicopters on the ground ready to fly. They have been in a condition called ‘smoked in.’ A slurry bomber doesn't fly like a commercial airliner, it doesn't fly by GPS. They have to actually see the target, they have to know where the line is, they have to know where the firefighters are below, they have to know where apparatus are below before they can make a drop. This morning we had temperature inversion, which put the smoke right on the ground. They couldn't see from flight level to make a drop," Pelle said. "If smoke was on the ground, they’d be dropping slurry blindly."

By afternoon, the weather inversion cleared, and the smoke was lifting, allowing air tankers to take off by 12:30 p.m.

A Boulder County home is destroyed by wildfire within minutes.

Pelle said he was most concerned about the fire growing along the north and east corners of the fire.

"I do anticipate more evacuations," Pelle said.

He said the fire behavior and suppression efforts are weather dependent.

When Pelle was asked what it was going to take to contain the fire, he responded, "Pray for rain. What it's going to take is higher humidities, calmer winds and a very large effort to contain it … then a lot of it is going to burn itself out."

As to the cause of the fire, Pelle said a team is looking into it.

"The initial report is that there was an automobile accident in Fourmile Canyon, where a car ran into a propane tank and caused it to rupture and started a fire. That's the best information we have right now," Pelle said. "That's part of what the investigation team is doing for me today (Tuesday) is trying to lock all that down and confirm it."

Officials said Tuesday night that evacuees would not be allowed to return to their homes for at least two more days. Mail for those in the evacuation area can be picked up at the main Boulder Post Office. Computers with Internet access will be made available at the main branch of the Boulder Public Library.

Gov. Ritter said he understands people’s desire to return home, but pleaded with evacuees to be patient and allow firefighters to knock down the blaze.

What is left behind after a fire ravages a home in Boulder County.

"It is important right now for people who have been evacuated to just be patient. This is a very volatile situation," Ritter said. "For our purposes, the important thing is to allow firefighters to do their business and that can only happen if they're not having to argue with people about re-evacuating … it is not safe for people to return to their homes."

Evacuees will be updated on the situation at a Wednesday meeting at 7:30 p.m. at the Coors Event Center on the University of Colorado campus.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management said the only evacuation shelter open is at the Boulder YMCA at 2850 Mapleton Ave. Small pets are allowed at the shelter. They will be housed away from people, but pet owners can visit with their pets and walk them outside.

Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam ordered the closure of Boulder Reservoir until further notice. The city property will be used to shelter firefighters who are working the wildfire. Emergency crews will be allowed to utilize camping equipment for the duration of the closure.

The public will not be allowed access to the Boulder Reservoir during this time.

The Boulder Reservoir location was chosen because of its proximity to the Incident Command Post at the Boulder County Regional Fire Training Center.

"We know the Boulder Reservoir is a popular destination this time of year, but this closure is necessary to help the courageous firefighting crews who are working this very difficult situation," Brautigam said. "As a city, our hearts go out to our neighbors who have lost their homes, and we are pleased to be able to provide whatever support we can to the emergency personnel on the front lines."

The Fourmile Canyon Fire is the worst Boulder County wildfire in 50 years, eclipsing the 1989 Black Tiger Fire, which destroyed 44 homes and burned more than 2,100 acres. A 7,200-acre fire was recorded in 1900 in the Eldora area in Boulder County.

Ash falls in Sunshine Canyon as the fire explodes Monday afternoon.

Nederland schools will be open for classes on Wednesday. Jamestown and Gold Hill schools will remain closed.

The follow road closures remained in effect Tuesday night: Fourmile Canyon and Sugarloaf roads are closed; Lefhand Canyon is closed from Lee Hill to Lick Skillet but Lefthand Canyon is open to Jamestown on the west side.

Boulder Canyon (Highway 119) remained open.

Earlier Developments

At a noon news briefing, Boulder County sheriff's spokesman Rick Brough said that the fire has been divided into divisions, with a fire supervisor responsible for each division going through each area to evaluate it, to talk to command teams about fighting it and and to drawing a perimeter of the burn zone.

Separate teams are also investigating the cause of the fire, and documenting each home that has burned in that area.

Brough said the destroyed homes were scattered throughout the burn zone, and not necessarily all in one neighborhood.

"Structures that have been damaged are all over the fire area. It's not like we can go into one area, to document the damage," Brough said.

Firefighters hope to provide a list of the homes that were burned on the Boulder Office Of Emergency Management website or the Incident Information website.

Crews are engaged in "point protection" which includes protecting homes, clearing defensible space around homes, and direct fire suppression.

Evacuation Areas, Road Blocks Remain

Homes in more than 70 subdivisions remain under mandatory evacuation orders.

Evacuation areas include all homes within a 3-mile radius of Gold Hill, Boulder Heights, Pine Brook Hills, Whispering Pines, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Bald Mountain, Sierra Antigua, Mountain Meadows and Mountain Pines, authorities said.

The evacuation area remains east of Peak-to-Peak Highway, south of Lefthand Canyon Drive and north of Boulder Canyon Drive (Colo. Highway 119).

Nobody will be allowed back home or back into areas that have been evacuated.

"We're just on pins and needles wondering if it's still there," said evacuee Bill Hyatt. "I did some fire mitigation, spent quite a bit of time on that recently, but it wasn't quite where I wanted it to be. So, it's a chance thing, just fate I suppose."

On Monday night, 12 people stayed at the Coors Events Center, located on the University of Colorado, Boulder campus. The three other shelters that had been opened on Monday were closed because most of the evacuees stayed with friends or family, the Red Cross said.

Several mountain schools were closed Tuesday because of the fire, including Jamestown, Gold Hill and Nederland elementary schools along with Nederland middle and senior high schools.

The fire broke out at about 10 a.m. Monday in an area that is steep, rocky and difficult to access. Erratic 45-mph gusts sometimes sent the fire in two directions at once, going through three canyons where pine trees have been left prone to fire by disease, drought and beetles.

The area is also extremely dry.

"We haven't had any rain there for almost a month. Maybe more than a month," said Craig Douglas, who lives north of the fire and received a knock on the door from a sheriff's deputy at about 8 p.m. on Monday. "The humidity the last couple of days has been in the single digits, so it was a fire waiting to happen."

So far, no injuries have been reported.

A large cloud of smoke hung in the sky over Boulder County and can be seen all over the metro area.

County health officials advised residents to stay indoors if the smoky air became irritating.

View Fourmile Canyon Fire in a larger map