Colorado fire evac­uees al­lowed to re­turn home

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By P. Solomon Banda

Hun­dreds of residents were al­lowed to re­turn to their homes in the foothills just out­side this univer­sity city on Mon­day as fire­fight­ers make progress against a wild­fire pos­si­bly sparked by tran­sient campers in the area.

The fire spread to about 70 acres, but fire­fight­ers were close to fully con­tain­ing it Mon­day by build­ing lines to stop it from spread­ing. Winds were fore­cast to be a bit lighter than when the fire broke out on Sun­day but are still likely to be a fac­tor es­pe­cially in the af­ter­noon.

Boul­der County Sher­iff ’s Cmdr. Mike Wag­ner said the blaze may be hu­man­caused and that hik­ers and tran­sient campers fre­quent the area where it erupted — a wooded, moun­tain­ous place a cou­ple of miles from Pearl Street, the shop­ping and din­ing hub in the heart of the home of Univer­sity of Colorado. Of­fi­cials ruled out any light­ning strikes or downed power lines, and Wag­ner said in­ves­ti­ga­tors were work­ing to pin­point ex­actly where it started.

Last year an­other wild­fire in the county was ac­ci­den­tally started by two men camping in the moun­tains who didn’t fully put out their camp­fire. It de­stroyed eight homes near the small town of Ned­er­land.

Res­i­dent Anne Shus­ter­man said the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple camping around the area are those who chose to live with­out a home, not peo­ple who have fallen on hard times and have no other choice. She said she no longer feels safe run­ning along trails be­cause of them and wor­ries about the fire dan­ger posed by them in tin­der-dry con­di­tions.

“I don’t know what it’s go­ing to take for this city to wake up,” said Shus­ter­man, who lives near the fire and woke up to find heavy smoke around her home Sun­day.

The lat­est fire started in the Sun­shine Canyon area, which is dot­ted with ex­pen­sive homes and rus­tic moun­tain res­i­dences. Dead trees ex­ploded and sent black smoke sky­ward.

Residents of 426 homes were or­dered to evac­u­ate and peo­ple who live in over 800 oth­ers were told to be ready to leave if con­di­tions wors­ened.

Of­fi­cials wor­ried that stronger wind gusts could fan the flames overnight. Residents of 836 homes were told to be ready to leave if con­di­tions wors­ened but high winds did not de­velop.

No struc­tures have been dam­aged.

Al­though Colorado’s moun­tain snow­pack is healthy — rang­ing from 105 to 130 per­cent of nor­mal on Mon­day — most of the state’s east­ern half, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lated Front Range, is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some de­gree of drought. Many lo­cal gov­ern­ments have en­acted fire bans af­ter weeks of warm, dry and of­ten windy weather dur­ing what is nor­mally one of the snowiest months of the year.

Wag­ner said con­di­tions seemed more like what might nor­mally be found in June rather than March.

Fire­fighter Ja­son Mor­ley told the Daily Cam­era news­pa­per that the con­di­tions on Sun­day were bru­tal.

“I’ve never seen it like this be­fore,” he said. “There is no snow at all up there. If you picked up grass, it would just crum­ble in your hands.”

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