Firefighters: Boulder Fire Burned Only One Home

Wild-Driven Wildfire Started Wednesday

Firefighters who went in to survey the damage of the Boulder Fire on Friday and said while the blaze covered more ground than expected, the good news was that only one home -- and not two -- burned.

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  • After measuring the blaze more precisely with a Global Information Services (GIS) mapping system, Boulder County firefighters estimate that 3,008 acres, or roughly 4.7 square miles, burned.

    The initial estimate on Thursday was that it burned 1,400 acres within the 6,400-acre fire perimeter.

    Firefighters also noted that the second home thought to have been destroyed by the blaze was just an abandoned turkey coop and an adjacent support structure. Only one home -- at 7202 North 45th Street -- was destroyed, but the number of outbuilding damaged will be likely grow once firefighters finish their assessment, Boulder County said.

    The fire was contained Thursday at 8 p.m. but will not be declared "controlled" until several remaining stump fires and hot spots are extinguished, said Dave Booton, from the Sheriff's Office Emergency Services Section. A 23-person "Juniper Valley" crew from the Department of Corrections worked in the area and a fire crew from the Boulder County Sheriff's Office will be on hand throughout the weekend.

    A sheriff's deputy has been assigned to patrol the burned area from dawn to dusk, looking for any flare-ups or hot spots. The Sheriff’s Office Communications Center received a handful of calls about spot fires Thursday night and early Friday morning from concerned residents and those fire crews were there to put it out so there was no additional damage.

    There are no estimates available as to the total loss yet or to the expenses incurred in fighting the fire.

    Evacuees Return Home

    Many residents have already returned home, grateful that the erratic, fast-moving wildfire spared all but two homes.

    "I'm shaking and I'm so grateful we have our homes and our pets," said Darlene Steiner, a resident of the Lake Valley Estates neighborhood north of Boulder, as she inspected her home following an overnight evacuation that affected an estimated 3,000 people. Steiner walked arm-in-arm with a friend, checking on neighbors and gazing at the burned landscape.

    The fire was declaired 100 percent contained at 8 p.m. Thursday and all evacuees were allowed to return to their homes.

    "It feels so good," said Eva Nejezchleb, who allowed 7NEWS to accompany her and her husband into thier neighborhood for the first time since the fire broke out.

    The couple has lived along Olde Stage Road since 1965. It means they remember another large fire back in 1990 which also forced evacuations. Ten homes were lost in that fire.

    Eighteen years later, approximately 1,400 acres, within the 3,700-acre fire zone burned, according to the latest update from Boulder County. Officials are calling it a "mosaic" pattern, meaning patches inside the boundary haven't been burned.

    "The fact that no one was killed or seriously injured and the fact that we (only) lost two homes, in a wind-driven fire like this, was miraculous," Pelle said. "I'm thankful for a calmer day."

    Eva Nejezchleb said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," to fire crews.

    "They risk their lives when they save our properties and we are very, very grateful," Nejezchleb said.

    Throughout the evening, firefighters planned to work the area and be on scene, aggressively patrolling the burn area to monitor hot spots and residual flames. Boulder County asked residents to remain alert and to call dispatch if they see a flare-up.

    Fifty firefighters and apparatus will at the site Friday morning to concentrate on mopping up.

    West said two firefighters and one police officer were the only ones who suffered minor injuries.

    Firefighters Focus On Hot Spots

    Firefighters spent most of Thursday protecting homes and putting out small fires where they could.

    "As long as the wind doesn't come up today, I'm confident we have this thing licked," said Boulder Sheriff Joe Pelle at an 8:30 a.m. news conference.

    By noon, the wind had picked up again and there were a number of flareups in the fire area. A water-dropping helicopter staged at the site remained on the ground because of the gusty winds, said Boulder County Sheriff's Cmdr. Phil West.

    At a Boulder Rural Fire Protection District station north of the city, Capt. Robert O'Donnell's crew was cleaning and folding hoses Thursday morning, after spending 15 hours on the fire lines.

    "We lost no homes, which is good. Just juniper (trees)," O'Donnell said. "(It was) jumping from to juniper to juniper. ... We had the wind. That was incredible."

    Fire crews lit backfires overnight to starve the blaze, and they saved several homes, Pelle said.

    Garry Briese, the Denver-based regional director for FEMA, also credited years of work to protect neighborhoods by outlawing wood shingles and encouraging homeowners to keep flammable landscaping away from their homes.

    "It was an overnight miracle that was 15 years in the making," said Briese, a former president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

    Winds A Major Factor

    Firefighters said they were worried power lines could have burned in the fire and fallen to the ground, making the area unsafe, West said. The fire is believed to have started from a power line downed by high winds at 12:58 p.m. on Wednesday. The official source of the fire has not been confirmed.

    Heavy winds gusting at 65 mph caused the fire to explode Wednesday afternoon, pushing it to the east and to the south, prompting Boulder County authorities to call more than 11,000 homes to warn residents of a possible evacuation.

    "(Wednesday) it was darn near impossible, during height of the wind, to physically fight the fire," Pelle said Thursday. "The effort to suppress this wildfire once the winds died down last night was exhausting and downright heroic."

    Firefighters thought they had a handle on the fire late Wednesday before wind gusts pushed flames across containment lines and toward two rural neighborhoods, forcing a late round of evacuations.

    Winds at the fire scene ranged from 35 to 55 mph on Wednesday, said Kyle Fredin, a National Weather Service spokesman. On Thursday, weather reports forecast near-record high temperatures in the lower 60s, low humidity and winds out of the west at 10 mph, with gusts of 25 mph.

    Utility company Xcel Energy said 2,500 customers briefly lost power in the Denver metro area that includes Boulder because of high winds.

    Evacuees Recount Terror

    "We could see the flames and the smoke was really coming down into our faces when we left," said 56-year-old Sharon Getman, who left her home with her parents. Getman said she took bibles, pictures and two U.S. flags belonging to her grandfathers, both Army veterans. "I was scared because I didn't know what was going to be happening and the wind was relentless."

    "It's really terrifying," said Pamela Taylor of nearby Louisville, who was trying to find out whether her horse Zorro had been moved from a boarding stable that stood in an evacuation area. "You just want to set eyes on him."

    One of the homes destroyed belonged to Bobra Goldsmith, 78, a retired University of Colorado French and music professor.

    As wind pushed flames toward her home and large barn at 7202 45th St., Goldsmith and neighbors rescued 160 llamas and alpacas on her Rocky Mountain Llamas ranch.

    "Thank God all of the animals are OK," she said Thursday.

    "I thought about grabbing a hose, but it was too late," she told the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper. Her home burned to the ground.

    Goldsmith told 7NEWS she didn't even get her purse out of the house before the home burned.

    "My mother was an artist," she said. "The house was filled with her work. I can't tell you what I've lost."

    Besides a priceless Picasso, which she had inherited, 78 years of memories were gone in an instant.

    When asked what she managed to save from the house, Goldsmith replied, "Nothing. Everything is gone."

    She planned to stay with friends and doesn't know if she will rebuild.

    "The house was too big anyway," she told 7NEWS.

    11,000 Get 'Evacuation Recommendations'

    When the fire first erupted, residents within a two-mile radius of the fire were the first forced to evacuate. Deputies went house to house to make sure no one stayed in their home. West said calls were made to 11,241 land lines alerting residents to the fire, but only those close to the fire were ordered to evacuate.

    Just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, the first subdivision within the Boulder city limits -- Dakota Ridge -- was forced to evacuate. Authorities said there are 532 homes in Dakota Ridge, located north of Lee Hill Road and west of Broadway.

    In addition to the firefighters, 50 law enforcement officers and 55 emergency personnel worked the blaze. One police officer and two firefighters have been treated for minor injuries so far.

    "This is what scares everybody to death, these high winds," said John Stobbelaar, a retired captain with the Mountain View Fire District who went to one of the fires after he was called up on standby.

    At one blaze, firefighters tried to save the buildings rather than contain the flames, West said.

    "We're just doing structural protection and letting the grass burn," he said.

    Evacuees were sent to Niwot High School or Centennial Middle School, where the Red Cross had set up shelters but few residents took advantage of it, choosing instead to stay with family and friends.

    "The fire was so close and all hell was breaking loose," said Fred Anders, 66, who was at the Niwot shelter with his wife, Candace, Wednesday night. The couple brought binoculars to keep a watch on their home.

    "I won't sleep anyway," he said. "You can't sleep. Get real."

    The owners of several horse ranches and llama ranches also evacuated animals to the Boulder County Fairgrounds and Sombrero Ranch.

    The acrid smell of smoke hung in the air as they returned home and brought their animals back to stable.

    Christy Cramer, a horse trainer, spent six hours Wednesday evacuating 42 horses from the Joder Ranch.

    "I called all of my friends with big horse trailers," Cramer said. "The flames were right next to my truck. It was very, very, very scary."

    Seven horses were found safe at the ranch Thursday, Cramer said: "One was standing in one of the burned pens, waiting for someone to help."

    Fire swept through a wire fence and consumed parts of Fred Smith's yard in the Lake Valley Estates neighborhood. It scorched juniper trees and burned holes in the floor of his wooden gazebo -- but his house was spared.

    Nearby, two yellow nylon ropes, their ends singed, swung in the wind -- the remains of a children's swing set. A small, orange plastic seat lay on the ground.

    Gusty winds buffeted Smith as he gazed across a valley of charred grass and the foothills beyond.

    "We're used to the winds out here," he said. "It's a constant force. You just have to get used to it

    Several Other Fires Reported At Same Time

    Another fire reported at the same time as the Olde Stage Fire was located at 45th Street and Neva Road, west of the town of Niwot. Downed power lines -- possibly caused by high winds -- sparked that fire, which spread to a house and a barn, West said.

    Another fire at U.S. Highway 36 and Hygiene was contained by 4 p.m. Wednesday The size of that fire is not known but it was also caused by downed power lines, authorities said.

    Community, Schools Impacted

    Three schools and two bus routes were affected by the Boulder evacuations. Students at Foothill Elementary, Boulder High School and Centennial Middle School have been impacted, said Briggs Gamblin, a spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District.

    All St. Vrain Schools were open for classes Thursday, including Niwot High School.

    Residents can call these phone numbers for additional information on the fire:

  • 720-564-2932
  • 720-564-2942
  • 720-564-2952

    Do not call 911 or the sheriff's office unless there is an emergency.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had agreed to help pay for 75 percent of the state's firefighting costs. The Boulder fire was listed on Thursday's FEMA National Situation Update.

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