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Officials estimate full containment of Fourmile Canyon Fire in 3 to 5 days

5:22 PM, Sep 10, 2010   |    comments
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Jim Thomas, a spokesman for a national incident management team, says the cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity in the forecast ahead are the reasons fire crews think they can achieve 100-percent containment of the Fourmile Canyon Fire by the middle of next week.

Gov. Bill Ritter met with incident commanders again on Friday and reiterated his confidence in them. Earlier this week, Ritter pledged $5 million toward the effort to extinguish the blaze that has already scorched 169 homes, the most ever lost in a Colorado wildfire.

Ritter says $4 million of that money has already been spent. He says if the $1 million he has already allocated toward the fire is exhausted, he could allocate up to another $280,000.

The governor also expressed his gratitude to those on the front lines fighting the blaze.

The optimism officials held on Friday afternoon came after tense moments Thursday afternoon. They had prepared for the worst overnight, but reported good news Friday morning. Stiff winds made it difficult to hear officials at the Boulder Reservoir during the Friday morning news conference, perhaps a foreshadowing of even stronger winds expected later in the afternoon.

Officials announced their fire lines remained intact after the overnight winds and no new structures were lost.

"I'm here to tell you we had a very, very good night," Terry Krasko, a spokesman for the national Type 1 incident team, said. "Our lines held through the wind event. Obviously, we're going to be back in the Red Flag Warning this afternoon late. So, we're going to test those lines once again."

A RED FLAG WARNING for high fire danger was allowed to expire at 6 p.m. Friday evening. Winds are expected to be light through Saturday morning.

Officials say the 6,422-acre Fourmile Canyon Fire remains 30 percent contained with 800 firefighters from 20 states working the blaze.

Things went so well overnight, authorities announced they would allow some residents back into their homes on Friday morning. Officials reopened Boulder Heights, Pine Brook Hills, Carriage Hills, Lee Hill Road and Olde Stage Road. Those areas were opened on Thursday briefly, then re-evacuated due to the impending winds.

During the brief time when evacuation orders were lifted on Thursday, officials say 1,000 people entered the area to check their homes, 25 of whom did not re-evacuate. Authorities say they took down the addresses of the people who did not re-evacuate in case they needed to reach them in the middle of the night, since all power and phone service is out in the area.

Authorities also reopened Sunshine Canyon to Poorman Road, Fourmile Canyon to Poorman Road, Sugarloaf and the Mountain Meadows Subdivision on Friday.

According to officials, the only areas being allowed back in are outside of the burn area, but inside the initial evacuation area.

Xcel Energy says it is still working to restore power. It has already restored power to residents in Pine Brook Hills and was working to restore power to the Sugarloaf Mountain area.

Cmdr. Rick Brough with the Boulder County Sheriff's Office says they planned to push back the roadblocks on Friday, but would have saturated patrols throughout the area. They say the roadblocks were slowing traffic on Thursday.

Resident Tom Bechkey, a geologist, didn't think it was worth it.

"There's no power, no phone, no gas, no nothin'. Even staying up there is futile," Bechkey said at the YMCA fire shelter, where about a dozen evacuees watched the morning fire briefing on television.

Lee McCormack made it to his house Thursday but was stopped at a roadblock on a second attempt.

"It's shut down. It doesn't matter how much you plead," McCormack said. "I gave the cop a PowerBar and he still wouldn't let me up there."

The city of Boulder told west-side residents to prepare to leave if the fire moved into town, setting off a scramble by some. From mansions to the north to a college sprawl near the University of Colorado to the south, some residents watered lawns, as well as their roofs, and packed cars with possessions. Others assembled on a smoky mountain overlook after dark, waiting to see if the distant fire glow seen earlier in the week would reappear. It didn't.

Caitlin Kolibas, 22, a college senior who lives in the University Hill neighborhood, said her parents in New Jersey were "trying to get me a little more concerned." But the university held classes as usual.

Boulder resident Lisa Carmichael loaded her pickup with a precious keepsake: Her grandfather's rocking chair.

"I lived through the Malibu fire, where the fire jumped over the Pacific Coast Highway and burned houses on the sand," Carmichael said. "So I know that with this wind, if the fire department says to take it seriously, you should take it seriously."

The loss of homes surpassed that of the 2002 Hayman fire in southern Colorado, which destroyed 133 homes and 466 outbuildings.

Nationwide, about 2.6 million acres have burned this summer, about 50 percent less than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)

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