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Gov. Ritter surveys Fourmile Canyon Fire

1:59 PM, Sep 7, 2010   |    comments
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Ritter was expected to speak about the Fourmile Canyon Fire, as it has been dubbed, around 1 p.m.

The blaze began round 10 a.m. Labor Day on Fourmile Canyon Road near Emerson Gulch, according to Boulder County Emergency Management. The fire was ballparked at 3,500 acres late Monday night but stayed about the same size into Tuesday morning. On Tuesday afternoon, the acreage was estimated to be around 7,120.

"That hasn't changed much from yesterday," Cmdr. Rick Brough with the Boulder County Emergency Management said during a Tuesday morning news conference. "The reason being, we had minimal growth around the fire perimeter, most of the burn was in the interior of the perimeter, so that's where we're seeing the burn."

Fire crews expected to receive aerial support Tuesday morning, but they weren't able to take off as early as scheduled because of heavy smoke and a temperature inversion in the area. Brough said at his noon news briefing that he expected the slurry bombers to take off within the hour.

"For that reason the air tankers have not been able to fly in the area," Cmdr. Rick Brough of the Boulder County Emergency Management, said.

9NEWS Meteorologist Marty Coniglio says the temperature would have to reach about 80 to 81 degrees in order for the inversion to break up, allowing tankers to fly.

Seven slurry bombers and two fixed winged planes were originally set to lift off around 8 a.m. Tuesday from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, where the charred scent of the blaze hung in the air. Laura McConnell, a spokeswoman for the Boulder County Type 3 Incident Management Team, says they want to get aerial support as early as possible in case it gets too windy later on Tuesday.

"Hopefully with the cooler temperatures, we won't have as much of a wind factor," McConnell said. "However, that's always a factor that they keep in mind as much as plan for these events throughout the day. One of the things I know: that's why they wanted to use the aviation resources sooner so that if the winds kick up later in the day, in the heat of the day, they can get much needed work done this morning."

9NEWS Meteorologist Becky Ditchfield says the fire area could see sustained winds of 5 to 15 mph on Tuesday, with some stronger gusts. Brough had an even more optimistic forecast for the winds.

"Today, the prediction is 3 to 6 mph, so that's much favorable for the firefighters today," Brough said. "That's going to allow us to get air tankers in the air."

Brough says the sustained winds were about 45 mph on Monday.

Three aircraft dumped about 40,000 gallons of fire retardant on the Fourmile Canyon Fire on Monday. On Tuesday, Brough says he hoped to dump two to three times what was dropped on Monday.

Brough says the plan for Tuesday is to protect all structures inside the perimeter, and to try to contain the fire south of Lefthand Canyon, north of Boulder Creek, east of Mt. Alto and west of Poorman Road, Sunshine Canyon, Pinebrook Hills and Lee High Drive. Brough planned an update with the incident commander at 4 p.m.

It's still unclear what sparked the Fourmile Canyon Fire.

"We do have an investigative team set up that has started to investigate the cause of the fire and go up into the burned area to document what structures have been involved, what structures have been destroyed," Brough said.

Brough says the investigators will begin by interviewing the first people who reported the fire.

As many as 35 different agencies responded to fight the wildfire, which is in a steep, rugged and heavily forested area of Boulder County. There were 100 firefighters and 35 engines on scene.

The county sheriff's office has asked state and federal authorities for additional resources to fight the fire. Additional resources to fight the fire were being brought in from around the region on Tuesday.

"Last night, the cooler temperatures were able to keep the fire quiet throughout the evening," McConnell said. "Firefighters were on the ground last evening in more of a monitor status. We were able to keep firefighters home last night for some much needed sleep, but they will be back today. The incident management team was also on scene last evening as well."

McConnell says "multiple and/or dozens" of homes were lost in the fire, including the homes of four of the firefighters battling the blaze. Once their homes were lost, the firefighters were pulled from the fire lines. Authorities were waiting for daylight before counting the number of homes that were destroyed and no numbers have been released.

The fire forced the mandatory evacuation of about 3,500 residents in the area west of the city of Boulder. Authorities say the evacuation area includes communities east of the Peak-to-Peak Highway, south of Lefthand Canyon Drive and north of Boulder Canyon Drive (Colorado Highway 119). A dozen people spent the night in the Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus. All other emergency shelters were able to close after evacuated residents made other arrangements to stay with friends or family.

Authorities say large animals can be brought to the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, while small pets can be temporarily housed at the Longmont and Boulder Valley Humane Societies.

The Boulder Valley School District cancelled classes in its mountain schools on Tuesday. Included in the closures were Jamestown, Gold Hill and Nederland Middle/Senior High School. The BVSD bus routes to and from the mountains were cancelled Tuesday as well. For more information, check http://bvsd.org.

McConnell says fire crews are hoping to get better mapping of the fire on Tuesday, but until they do, they say acreage estimates could fluctuate. McConnell says better mapping will also give them a better idea of where the fire is.

"In some of those areas, it's pretty steep terrain and it can actually get in some of those crevasses and ruts," McConnell said.

Although no injuries have been reported in the wildfire, a number of people woke up Tuesday feeling the loss of a home.

"I'm OK," Nika Perkins said. "Everything's a little bit surreal at this point, but my family's safe, so I can be thankful for that much right now."

Perkins says her parents lost their home in the fire on Monday. For more on Perkins' story, click here.

According to the Center for Environmental Journalism, the smoke plume from the fire can even be seen from space.

Boulder Canyon Drive reopened to traffic Monday evening, but authorities say Fourmile Canyon Drive and Sugarloaf Road remains closed. Lefthand Canyon Drive is shut down from Lee Hill Drive to Lick Skillet Road.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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