Thousands Flee Colorado Wildfire

fromKUNC

More than 3,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the foothills west of Boulder, Colo., where a wildfire is burning out of control. The blaze started Monday and has burned thousands of acres as well as a number of homes and structures.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Colorado, more than 3,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the foothills west of Boulder. That's where a wildfire is burning out of control. The blaze started yesterday and has burned thousands of acres, as well as a number of homes and structures.

Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC reports from the fire command post in downtown Boulder.

KIRK SIEGLER: The cause of the fire has not been determined. Erratic winds on Monday sent the flames scurrying up a series of rugged but heavily populated canyons about eight miles west of Boulder. Fire crews have not been able to attack the blaze much from the air due to the wind and an inversion this morning. Warm air above trapped smoke near the ground, making it too dangerous to fly.

But Boulder County Sheriff Commander Rick Brough says better weather today should aid firefighters.

Commander RICK BROUGH (Boulder County Sheriff's Department): One of the things with the inversion, it kind of holds the fire behavior down. So as it lifts, the fire will start spreading more. But at the same time, we're able to get air tankers into the area.

SIEGLER: But Brough didn't give the news that many people wanted to know when they'd be allowed back in. It's been a long 24 hours for thousands of people displaced by the fire. Many of them have been hanging out here throughout the day, exchanging worried glances and swapping stories.

Mr. TIM LOCKHART(ph): It's frustrating. But at the same time, what else can you expect?

Ms. LINDA MOLANU(ph): But we have our dog and our neighbors are okay. It seems like no one is hurt. So I'm sure it'll be fine.

Mr. LOCKHART: Yeah.

SIEGLER: Tim Lockhart and his wife, Linda Molanu, had been away camping for the Labor Day holiday when they got a reverse 911 call to their cell phones telling them to evacuate. They hurried back to Boulder but haven't been able to get to their home west of town.

Mr. LOCKHART: We know that people have lost houses on either side of us. So we're not - we're hopeful, but, you know, we're not holding our breath at the same time.

SIEGLER: Authorities say one of the reasons information has been slow to come in is that communication is limited and cell phone coverage is sparse in the canyons.

After touring the fire this afternoon, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter praised firefighters and urged homeowners to sit tight.

Governor BILL RITTER (Democrat, Colorado): It is important right now for people who've been evacuated to just be patient. This is a very volatile situation.

SIEGLER: The governor has declared a state of emergency, releasing $5 million in state funds to tackle the blaze. Federal resources are also mobilizing from around the country.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Boulder, Colorado.

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