September 10, 2010 in Nation/World

Flames threaten Boulder, Colo., as residents prepare to flee

Dan Elliott Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Firefighters from Rosewood, N.D., remove wood and debris from around a home near Boulder, Colo., on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

BOULDER, Colo. – A Colorado wildfire that already has destroyed 170 homes showed no signs of relenting Thursday as wind gusts of more than 40 mph threatened to drive the flames eastward from the Rocky Mountain foothills and into the heart of Boulder, where some residents were warned to be ready to flee.

Officials worried about a repeat of the devastation in the foothills, where neighborhoods once filled with million-dollar homes and scenic mountain cabins have become piles of smoking rubble.

Boulder is a city of about 100,000 people that is home to the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal laboratory best known for running the atomic clock that’s used to maintain the official U.S. time.

By Thursday evening, west-northwest winds in the foothills had reached 15-25 mph with occasional gusts above 40 mph. The strongest winds were expected this morning, said National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Entrekin in Boulder. A red flag warning, signaling high fire danger, was in effect for the broader region through Friday evening.

About 3,500 people have been out of their homes for four days, and some have been frustrated with a lack of information about what was happening behind fire lines because they couldn’t do more to help. Some have gotten around roadblocks by hiking and biking in to check on their homes, and an unknown number who got back into homes decided to stay and hunker down.

Lee McCormack made a trip to his house early Thursday but was stopped at a roadblock in the afternoon. McCormack, who was riding a bicycle, had planned to get more belongings, including his car and his wife’s favorite laundry detergent, but couldn’t talk an officer into letting him through.

“It’s shut down. It doesn’t matter how much you plead,” McCormack. “I gave the cop a Power Bar and he still wouldn’t let me up there.”

Winslow Robertson, the operations chief for the fire, estimated firefighters have been able to contain 45 percent of the blaze. He said no more structures were lost Thursday.

Fire managers said as many 700 firefighters and support personnel and seven air tankers were assigned to fight the fire, considered the nation’s top firefighting priority.

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