BOULDER, Colo. – Two wildfires burning in Colorado on Friday prompted the evacuations of the homes of 1,700 people as well as more in neighboring foothills where dozens of houses were burned in a blaze last month.
Nearly 140 homes in three subdivisions in the Boulder County foothills were evacuated Friday morning shortly after the wildfires were first reported, and authorities issued emergency phone calls to 181 numbers. Officials later ordered evacuations for a portion of Boulder's west side. Public buildings including a senior center, a court house and two medical buildings were also evacuated.
Michelle Kelly of the Boulder County incident management team said at least 150 firefighters were battling the fires that merged, growing to about 144 acres by Friday evening.
Two planes made more than 20 drops of water and slurry on the blaze before dark. About 60 firefighters were set to work through the night.
Boulder County sheriff's Cmdr. Rick Brough said the evacuations were more precautionary than anything else because heavy winds prompted fears the fire could quickly spread. He said no homes were immediately threatened.
The winds died down by night and humidity increased, boosting hopes that crews could get the upper hand on the fire. Officials said 200 firefighters would be on the lines Saturday and an airplane and helicopter would be used.
Brough said investigators believe the first fire was human caused because it started in city open space and that the second one was sparked by embers from the first.
Marjorie Leidig first saw the smoke and then the flames from her home in Sunshine Canyon west of Boulder. Soon, she was grabbing important personal possessions and fleeing a wildfire for the second time in seven weeks.
"The process is very traumatizing," Leidig said. "You literally have a half hour to put everything in your car and get out of there."
Leidig was forced out of her home for four days by the fire in September, and doesn't know how long the evacuation will be this time. "It's getting old," she said.
Still, Leidig, a clinical psychologist who has lived in the area for 37 years, said she "loves living in the mountains."
For 49-year-old engineer Joe Paulson, a city evacuation alert to his cell phone was enough to send him back to his two-story house in the evacuation area. He threw papers and photos in a suitcase while friends helped remove his five bicycles.
"I just started grabbing stuff and flinging it," Paulson said. "I'll wait to panic later."
Third grade teacher Kalan Orobona, 28, raced home after getting a call from his brother at school. His wife had already left with their dog but Orobona stayed behind to rake leaves away from the house.
"I had to leave the kids behind for the Halloween party," said Orobona, who said a student teacher took over his class.
An air tanker buzzed over the neighborhood as Orobona raked leaves in his flip-flops and officers went door to door as neighbors packed up their cars.
The fires are closer to the city than the wildfire that destroyed more than 160 houses in the foothills last month. That fire was the most destructive in Colorado history in terms of property damage.
Fire officials said the blaze isn't as dangerous as the September wildfire that burned 10 square miles, because of the calmer winds.
"A lot's going to depend on the weather at this point," Brough said. There were no immediate reports of power outages, injuries or damage to buildings, he said.
Associated Press writers Ivan Moreno, Kristen Wyatt and Judith Kohler in Denver contributed to this report.