Sifting through the ashes

Colorado crews let hundreds of evacuees return to their scorched homes Sunday as investigators probed the cause of a devastating wildfire that has burned 10 square miles (26 square kilometres) near Boulder.

Walter Plywaski walks through the ashes of his home west of Boulder

Walter Plywaski walks through the ashes of his home west of Boulder

BOULDER, Colo. — Colorado crews let hundreds of evacuees return to their scorched homes Sunday as investigators probed the cause of a devastating wildfire that has burned 10 square miles (26 square kilometres) near Boulder.

A senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told the Denver Post that authorities are looking into whether a fire pit sparked the blaze, which could mean criminal charges are possible. The newspaper did not name the official.

Authorities previously said the fire may have started after a vehicle crashed into a propane tank. The sheriff’s office is aware of the Post article but won’t comment on the cause or origin of the fire because it’s under investigation, said Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for the fire response.

Utility workers were restoring electricity to homes where about 2,000 residents have been allowed to return in the rugged foothills above Boulder. Much of the area is dangerous because of downed power lines and poles, damaged roads and exposed mine shafts, officials said.

Firefighting operations were being scaled back and some crews were being relieved six days after the wildfire erupted and quickly destroyed at least 169 homes.

Like other residents, Nancy and Jim Edwards picked up a permit Sunday morning to re-enter their neighbourhood, but they found out that the roads leading up to where they live are still closed. Jim Edwards said they might drive as far as they’re allowed.

“We might take a ride, but it is really heartbreaking to see the stuff,” he said.

Edwards said he spotted their house through a telescope from Flagstaff Mountain outside Boulder and saw that it was destroyed.

“It looked like a nuclear disaster,” Nancy Edwards said. She said they plan to rebuild.

Fire spokesman Terry Krasko said Sunday firefighters have been overwhelmed by the community’s gratitude and are especially touched by a wall of thank-you notes at their command camp.

Inside the burn area Saturday, crews worked to snuff out smouldering stumps, using shovels, axes and water carried on backpacks. Fire trucks and water tenders ferried water up the mountains and down the canyons while helicopters dropped water on hot spots.

“There is a lot of unburned fuel and a lot of houses at risk,” warned Don Ferguson, a spokesman for the incident command.

It was 73 per cent contained Saturday night and crews, taking advantage of calmer winds, hoped for full containment by this evening.

Some 1,000 firefighters from 20 states dug lines and tamped out hot spots.

The fire left some houses standing among blackened forests while homes nearby burned to the ground. Burnt cars littered driveways.

At one home, a winding stucco concrete staircase rose about 15 feet (4.5 metres) into open space — where a house used to be. Beyond, mountains in the distance sprouted 100-acre (40-hectare) patches of burned trees surrounded by green forest and untouched homes.

Firefighter Steve Reece spent Saturday day digging out grass and cutting through roots with a tool that’s part shovel, part hoe and part axe to snuff out hot spots.

Xcel Energy, the region’s electricity utility, planned to start repairing or installing new poles and lines, said spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo.

It has cost more than $6.7 million to fight the fire, which was quickly fanned by gusting winds. Winds picked up again later in the week, leading to fears that the fire might spread into the city of Boulder. Officials urged residents to prepare to evacuate, but fire lines held and no evacuations were needed.

The loss of homes surpassed that of the 2002 Hayman fire in southern Colorado, which destroyed 133 homes and 466 outbuildings over more than 215 square miles (557 square kilometres).

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Premier Jason Kenney struck back at unruly protesters who chanted ‘lock her up’ in relation to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Monday. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Alberta Premier calls for ‘unhinged conspiracy theorists’ to stop threatening the chief medical officer

Spreading misinformation, making threats is ‘beyond the pale,’ said Kenney

An internal investigation by AHS revealed 3,224 patients had their electronic health records accessed improperly by two clerical employees in the diagnostic imaging department at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Employees access 3K patients’ records in privacy breach at Red Deer hospital

3,224 patients had their electronic health records accessed improperly

The Red Deer Boxing Club will be moving to a larger space, in North Red Deer. The programs need more room to grow, says founder Robert Carswell. (Photo by LANA MICHELIn/Advocate staff).
Red Deer Boxing Club is moving to north industrial site

The property was rezoned to accommodate recreational uses

An Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet arrives at Halifax Stanfield International Airport on Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Air Canada agrees to $5.9-billion aid package, giving Ottawa equity stake in airline

$1.4 billion earmarked to help reimburse thousands of customers

Innisfail RCMP say Brandon Pitts is missing. (Photo contributed)
Missing central Alberta man

Innisfail RCMP request public’s help

Hindu devotees wearing face masks as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus stand in a queue to offer prayers inside a temple dedicated to goddess Kali in Jammu, India, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. New infections have surged in the past month and India has now reported over 13.6 million cases — pushing its toll past Brazil, and making it second only to the United States. In the past 24 hours, over 160,000 new infections have been detected and experts fear that the worst is yet to come. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
Johnson & Johnson delays shot rollout in Europe

BERLIN — Johnson & Johnson says it is delaying the rollout of… Continue reading

Restaurant workers and restaurant delivery workers wait in line to sign up for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccine site, Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of New York. The mobile vaccination effort includes two buses equipped with four to six vaccinators each, delivering the COVID-19 vaccine directly to communities most in need. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
US recommends ‘pause’ for J&J vaccine over clot reports

WASHINGTON — The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in using the single-dose… Continue reading

FILE-Team Canada’s Meaghan Mikkelson fights for control of the puck with U.S.A.’s Hayley Scamurra during third period of Women’s Rivalry Series hockey action in Vancouver, Wednesday, February 5, 2020. Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada’s director of women’s national teams, hopes a Rivalry Series against the United States can happen this winter.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer
Canadian women’s hockey team to open selection camp in Nova Scotia

Six goaltenders, 15 defenders and 26 forwards will vie for spots on Canada’s 23-player roster

FILE - Rhian Wilkinson, left, and Melissa Tancredi of Canada’s women’s soccer team attend a news conference in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 to announce their retirement from the team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson now part of England coaching setup

Wilkinson left Canada Soccer in January to join interim England head coach Hege Riise as an assistant

Canadian actor/producer/director Jay Baruchel is photographed at the 5 Drive-In Theatre in Oakville, Ont., ahead of the premier of Baruchel’s movie Random Acts of Violence, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Jay Baruchel to host Amazon Prime Video’s ‘LOL: Last One Laughing Canada’

Final comedian left standing wins a grand prize for a charity of their choice

Letters
Letter: Leaders like MLA Jason Stephan should work towards greater good

Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan talks about the devastating social and… Continue reading

Opinion
Opinion: Women, hit hardest by pandemic, key to economic recovery

Events of the past year have laid bare the many disparities and… Continue reading

Most Read