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Dangerous gusts could fuel Boulder fire Friday afternoon

5:50 AM, Sep 10, 2010   |    comments
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Fire crews were prepared for the worst-case scenario late Thursday night. They were concerned strong winds could carry the flames over fire lines. The City of Boulder even took precautions, warning residents of the threat of possible evacuations.

"There's probably over 200 people who we have briefed tonight on the winds, told them what to expect: that the wind could pick up," Incident Commander Jim Thomas said Thursday night. "I'm not aware of any real threat to Boulder right now. Our worst case scenario with the wind doesn't put it any where near Boulder yet."

9NEWS Meteorologist Becky Ditchfield says that while we saw gusts up to 30 mph, the extremely intense winds didn't show up.  However a RED FLAG WARNING remains in effect for Fourmile Canyon and other foothill locations in Boulder, Jefferson, and Larimer Counties from noon until 6 p.m. Friday.

She says stronger winds are once again forecasted to start up around lunch time Friday.  Gusts could be around 30 mph or stronger.

Those winds are making residents inside the Boulder city limits prepare for the worst if the Fourmile Canyon Fire happens to cross into the western part of the city. The City of Boulder says they are putting into effect some of their emergency plans, which include informing the public about and planning for possible evacuations, mowing the grass along the western edge of the city and reducing the fuel around residential areas.

"We are certainly hoping for the best, but as a city. We are doing the very things we would urge residents to do - staying vigilant and planning for the worst," said City Manager Jane S. Brautigam in a news release. "While city neighborhoods have been spared a direct impact so far, this remains a volatile situation. There are concerns about the fire's path becoming less predictable and the possibility of spot fires from embers."

The City of Boulder says residents living west of Broadway should prepare for the event of possible evacuations and are asked to take the following actions:

- Clear out lawns and western areas, removing all combustibles, including firewood, lawn furniture, play equipment, grills and propane tanks.

- Do not put propane tanks inside garages. Move them to the east side of your home in a highly visible location.

- Mow tall grass and remove extra brush from the west side of your home.

- Make certain that all windows on the west side of your home are closed and keep all interior doors closed. Keep your porch light and all exterior lights on.

- Make sure you have gas in your car and park your vehicle pointed in the direction of the road.

- Prepare your take-away kit with important documents, photos, medications and other significant items and put it in your car.

- Consider making shelter arrangements with friends and family members, if possible, for you and your pets.

"We are incredibly grateful for all of the work firefighters from near and far have done since Monday, and we are committed to continuing to help in all ways that we can," Brautigam said. "We hope for good news soon, but we want our residents to know that the danger has not yet passed. This is an ideal time for families to develop a plan that could be implemented on a moment's notice."

Authorities say they had made progress in the battle against the 6,365-acre Fourmile Canyon Fire, reporting 30 percent containment of the blaze on Thursday morning.

The firefighters on the front lines are preparing for a long and gusty night, hoping to keep their fire lines and possibly add 10 to 15 percent containment to the fire if all goes as planned.

"With this predicated, this forecasted Red Flag, we'll extend the day shift if we need to. In addition, we might have the night shift out there," Winslow Robertson, the operations chief, said. "If both shifts are out there, there could be maybe 500 people out there on the line."

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle says anyone who was let back into their homes on Wednesday morning had mandatory re-evacuation orders by Wednesday evening.

Pelle said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon that computer models show a possible worst-case scenario with the approaching winds, which he says could blow embers up to a half a mile and cause flare-ups in areas that were opened in the morning.

"Anybody that has lived here for any length of time and has been through the Old Stage Fire or the Black Tiger Fire, they understand the complete ravaging, fast-moving destructions of a wind-driven fire," Pelle said. "It is not a chance we can take; it's not worth gambling people's lives for."

The areas of re-evacuation include the Boulder Heights, Pine Brook Hills and Carriage Hills subdivisions, as well as homes on Olde Stage Road and Lee Hill Drive that were reopened at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

Residents in the areas of Sugarloaf, from Boulder Canyon to Sugar Court; Fourmile Canyon from Boulder Canyon to Poorman; Sunshine from Boulder Canyon to Poorman; and Lefthand, were possibly going to be allowed back in at 2 p.m., but that was cancelled.

Some residents are extremely upset by Pelle's decision, calling it a "broken promise." Pelle says the safety of the residents is the top priority, especially because there is no phone or electricity going to the homes at this time.

"Our ability to do an immediate notification in the middle of the night and get them out of there if the fire slips the lines is very limited, and I do not want people to burn in their houses in the middle of the night because we can't get to them or get a phone call to them," Pelle said.

The mandatory evacuations did not stop some residents from trying to get back to their property. Cmdr. Rick Brough of the Boulder County Emergency Management Office says one person was ticketed for trying to cross into the closed-off area.

Brough says after surveying 80 percent of the nearly 10-square-mile burn area, 169 homes have been destroyed in the fire. They say another 20 percent needs to be surveyed before they reach a final tally.

Authorities say there were no additional structures reported as burned down or damaged on Thursday.

Fire officials say 550 firefighters were working the blaze and an additional 160 firefighters arrived on Thursday to join in the fight.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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