BOULDER, – Authorities say they believe a wildfire just west of downtown Boulder may have been human-caused.
Boulder County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Wagner says the fire originated in an area used by hikers and transients for camping. Wagner says officials have ruled out any lightning strikes or downed power lines.
Some 250 firefighters backed by water-dropping aircraft are fighting the 62-acre blaze, which is 20 percent contained as of Sunday evening. No structures have been damaged. Wagner said there’s a chance winds might pick up sometime overnight.
Wagner said Sunday evening that evacuation orders for residents of 426 homes will remain in place overnight. The Red Cross opened a shelter for those evacuees unable to stay with family or friends.
Wagner said fire crews will monitor the blaze overnight and focus on full containment and mop-up on Monday.
Firefighters made progress Sunday as the blaze burned in mountains just outside downtown Boulder.
The blaze ignited dead trees that exploded into black plumes of smoke, authorities and residents said.
Wind was pushing the flames in the wooded area a couple of miles west of Pearl Street, the shopping and dining hub in the heart of the university city. Crews partially contained the fire that had burned a little more than 60 acres, but officials worried that stronger gusts expected later Sunday could fan flames.
The Boulder Office of Emergency Management said besides the 426 homes evacuated before dawn, and residents of an additional 836 were warned to get ready to leave if conditions worsened.
No reports of injuries or damage to homes were reported, emergency officials said. Several aircraft were dropping water and retardant on the flames, and a community center has opened as an evacuation shelter.
Officials were not sure how the fire started in Sunshine Canyon, an area dotted with a mixture of expensive homes and rustic mountain residences.
Seth Frankel, who was warned that he and his family may need to evacuate, said he had packed up “generations of things” that can’t be replaced and was ready to go if the air quality got worse.
He said smoke was pouring toward neighborhoods, and many dead trees were combusting and sending black smoke into the air less than a half-mile from his home. But he and his wife, a Boulder native, and three daughters have dealt with fires and floods before.
“It’s always alarming and always on your mind, but it’s not an uncommon sensation around here,” said Frankel, who has lived in Boulder for 20 years.
In 2010, a wildfire destroyed nearly 200 houses in the mountainous area west of the city.
Frankel got word of the fire early Sunday from a neighbor who received a warning call, and he was outside with neighbors watching the flames and smoke. But he let his daughters, 9, 11 and 13, sleep in.
“It’s still alarming, but there’s no panic,” Frankel said. “We will be long since gone when parents are no longer smiling.”