Unseasonably warm and dry weather along the Front Range Saturday helped spark a Boulder wildfire that broke out just northwest of where the devastating Marshall Fire burned in December.
The fire of unknown origin near Table Mesa began around 2 pm Saturday. Boulder authorities sought help from multiple departments to supply brush trucks and wildland fire crews. They also requested precautionary evacuations of about 1,200 people from nearby neighborhoods stretching down to the area near the origin of the Marshall Fire.
By 7 pm the fire had grown to 122 acres, and firefighters had no containment. But winds had slackened, providing hope that nearby homes could be protected, said Marya Washburn, public information officer for Boulder Fire and Rescue.
“The wind is now dying down, so we’re expecting to have the weather work more in our favor,” Washburn said. “When the fire started we had fairly high winds.”
Winds near the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research where the fire began were gusting at 35 mph. NCAR soon became the staging area for more than 50 firefighters and equipment.
Airplanes dropped slurry on the fire, while a “wet line” of water was set by firefighters between the burning brush and structures.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep structures safe and protect as much as we can,” Washburn said.
Residents were evacuated from neighborhoods in Table Mesa on the east side of south Boulder, and El Dorado Canyon. The East Boulder Community Center was opened as a shelter.
Brian Oliver, the wildland fire division chief for the Boulder Fire and Rescue, and one of the incident commanders on the NCAR fire, said firefighters would work overnight just to stop the forward progress of the fire, protect any structures and get a containment line in place.
“Crews made excellent progress just keeping it out of the subdivision,” Oliver said.
He credited fire mitigation efforts including thinning of vegetation by Boulder open space workers for keeping the fire in check, but said the fire took off because trees in the area remain dry and dormant and the grass is still brown from winter.
As if on cue, the fire burst to life Saturday just after morning warnings from the National Weather Service that the sudden onset of warm weather and strong winds would produce fire-friendly conditions.
“Even with just elevated fire conditions, it’s definitely advisable to avoid certain activities that could cause sparks,” said Bruno Rodriguez, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Boulder. “Avoiding lawnmowers, chain saws things like that.”
The Marshall Fire started on Dec. 30 in nearly 100-mph winds, ripping across open space and destroying more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Superior and Louisville. The debris has yet to be cleared from that blaze, adding to the anxiety of Boulder residents as smoke was spotted near the Flatirons.
The immediate concern of first responders Saturday was clearing a crowded El Dorado State Park and the numerous trails around the Flatirons, filled with hikers taking advantage of the weather.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism