Dozens Of Homes, Buildings Destroyed By 3,500 Acre Fire

4 Firefighters Lose Their Homes While Battling Blaze

Dozens of buildings were destroyed and about 1,000 homes evacuated as a wind-whipped 3,500-acre wildfire raged through Four Mile Canyon, west of Boulder on Monday.

"We're saddened to … report that there have been multiple structures lost or destroyed," Laura McConnell, a member of the Boulder County Incident Management Team, said at an 8:30 p.m. briefing. Authorities didn't have estimates on the number of the homes destroyed.

Four firefighters lost their own homes while battling the blaze, McConnell said.

"We do ask that you keep these people in your thoughts," she said of everyone who lost homes. The firefighters whose homes burned were released from duty.

The crew from AirTracker7, flying over the area, reported seeing dozens of buildings destroyed.

Right now, the goal is protecting the lives of residents and firefighters, McConnell said.

"At this point, we're not even discussing containment and control," she said.

Homeowners Make Harrowing Escapes

Tearful homeowners Anna and Tom Neuer, told 7NEWS how they lost the battle to save their hilltop home, and watched two neighbors' houses go up in flames, too.

The fire also claimed a used fire truck that Tom Neuer, an ex-firefighter, bought just for a firestorm like the one that hit Monday.

"You have this wall of fire, humongous wall of fire coming at you," Anna Neuer said. "And I'm thinking: 'I've got to get out of here. We got to go now!'"

Tom said when the fire started crowning in the treetops there was nothing they could do to stop it.

Anna threw some valuables in the car -- Social Security cards, their marriage license and wedding rings -- and took off down the hill.

Tom followed 10 long minutes later.

"I just drove through a wall of flames. I think the bumper's melted on the front of the van," he said.

The couple shared an emotional hug -- saddened by their loss, grateful to have survived.

"Thank God you're alive! Thank God," Anna said as she kept hugging her husband. "I don't care about the house. I'm glad you're OK."

Despite the fast-moving fire and harrowing evacuations, no injuries have been reported, said Boulder County sheriff's spokesman Rick Brough.

"We need to keep everyone out of the fire lines, because it's still very dangerous up there," he warned.

Lief Steiner said he could hear the fire roaring over the ridge toward his Melvina Hill home. He saw flames devour three neighboring homes.

With the fire about 100 yards away, he grabbed what he could -- a tax statement and some clothes -- and took off in his car.

"You're going to die if you're up there," Steiner said. "There's no choice."

Thousands Forced To Evacuate

Approximately 2,500 residents were notified by automated telephone alerts to evacuate.

Yet, Brough said officials had problems with the automated telephone alert system Monday afternoon. The system was restored after about two hours, and the problem appeared to be with an opt-in program for cell phone users, he said.

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

On Monday night deputies were evacuating homes on a six-mile stretch of Sugarloaf Road from Labelle Road to Peak to Peak Highway.

"We're a little concerned the wind is going to shift on us and that's an area that's going to be most affected here in the near future," Brough said.

As a precaution, authorities also had to cut electricity to the Boulder Heights, Pine Brook Hills and Carriage Hills areas Monday night

Highway 119 Reopened Late Monday Night

Westbound Highway 119, also known as Boulder Canyon Drive, reopened just before 11 p.m. Monday after being closed most of the day.

Lefthand Canyon, 4-Mile Canyon, Sunshine Canyon, Olde Stage Road, were also closed to traffic.

Brough urged residents to swiftly obey mandatory evacuation orders.

"We're having problems with people that aren't leaving and we don't have the resources to help them out at a later time," he said.

Residents who wait until the last minute to flee the fire are clogging narrow mountain roads, hampering fire crews ability to access the area, Brough added.

"Right now, the big thing is evacuations -- trying to get people out of the area ... just saving lives," Brough said.

About 100 firefighters are battling the blaze and with 75 more firefighters on standby to relieve them, Brough said. About 35 fire agencies are on the scene.

Firefighters were focused on evacuating people and protecting structures by clearing brush and trees for 30 yards around buildings. Deputies were going door-to-door evacuating homes and marking buildings that had been cleared.

Firefighters will be out on fire lines all night, Brough said.

Winds, Terrain Make Firefighting Tough

A view of the fire from Flagstaff Mountain.

The terrain is rugged, steep and very difficult to access, Brough said.

Winds gusting to 45 mph have hampered ground and air efforts to combat the wildfire.

"It's hard for the firefighters to get ahead of the fire and get any kind of fire breaks set up because it's moving so fast," Brough said.

Air tankers began flying about 5 p.m. after being grounded by high winds most of the day.

Three air tankers were dumping retardant on the fire Monday evening, including a single-engine, 799-gallon tanker and two heavy tankers, each with a 2,300-gallon capacity, authorities said. Two spotter planes were helping target the slurry drops.

The planes kept flying missions until it grew too dark.

Four additional heavy air tankers from Idaho were expected to arrive Monday evening at the Rocky Mountain Regional Airport.

That means seven sky tankers will be fighting the fire at first light Tuesday, authorities said.

To help wage the costly fire fight, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle received state and federal approval for emergency financial aid and more manpower and equipment, Brough said.

The fire started just after 10 a.m. on Fourmile Canyon Drive near Emerson Gulch, Brough said. Fire crews are busy battling the blaze and the investigation into its cause will come later, he said.

Evacuees Say Fire Blew Up, Smoke Smothers Area Neighborhoods

Tom Battany was forced to abandon the home he grew up in after spending more than a year on a top-to-bottom renovation of the house at 5434 Sunshine Canyon, said his wife, Kathy Battany.

Thick, heavy, brown smoke covers nearby neighborhoods.

“The flames are getting close. The sheriff just went over to the house and told him he had to evacuate," said the wife, who had left earlier in the afternoon.

The family had moved back into her husband's childhood home a year ago. Tom Battany stayed a while longer as the fire neared to round up their four cats and two dogs, the wife said.

“We have three kids and they wanted some stuff. I went up and got some of their clothes," Kathy Battany said. "It’s just sad. It’s very, very sad.”

Nearing flames and choking smoke also forced Peter Markusen and his two roommates to evacuate their home on Fourmile Canyon Drive near Arroyo Chico about 2 p.m.

"It got so sick that we couldn't even really breathe, so we packed up and left," said Markusen, a 25-year-old University of Colorado student, who drove to Boulder where he plans to stay with his parents or friends.

The American Red Cross Mile High Chapter opened an overnight shelter Monday evening at the Coors Event Center on CU Boulder campus. People should use the southwest arena entrance to enter the shelter, which can accommodate about 500 people.

Three other shelters that were open during the day -- the North Boulder Recreation Center, 3170 Broadway; New Vista High School at 20th and Baseline, in Boulder; and the Nederland Community Center, 750 Highway 72, in Nederland -- closed by nightfall.

Several mountain schools will be closed Tuesday, including Jamestown, Gold Hill and Nederland elementary schools along with Nederland middle and senior high schools.

Pat Thomas, a resident in the Sugarloaf Mountain area, called 7NEWS to report that smoke from the fast-growing fire had blotted out her hilltop view just south of Fourmile Canyon.

"I'm not waiting. I've got my dogs, my gun and my things and I'm leaving," she said. "I just wanted to call you to tell people to get out of their homes."

"About 15 minutes ago I could see the other side of the canyon and I can't see it now. The houses are completely covered with smoke," Thomas said. "It's a big fire. All I see is smoke in every direction."

"This area is really steep and really smoked-in right now," 7NEWS Reporter Russell Haythorn reported.

The large plume of brown and gray smoke from the fire can be seen from all over the Front Range -- from Fort Collins to Monument.

Those who have been evacuated are gathering at the intersection of Boulder Canyon Road and Fourmile Canyon Road, awaiting word from authorities on when they can return home.

Conditions in the area are dry.

A Wildfire Smoke Health Advisory was issued for Boulder County through 4 p.m. Tuesday as state health officials urged people with health conditions to stay indoors.

Heavy to moderate smoke was expected in the Boulder area on Tuesday. With winds predicted to reverse direction and blow from the northeast Monday evening, officials said light-to-moderate smoke is expected to blow across much of the metro area.

Authorities are providing information to the public and the media via a command center positioned at Boulder Canyon and Fourmile.

Flights at Denver International Airport are not being affected by the smoke being produced by the wildfires, authorities said.

View Fourmile Canyon Fire in a larger map