BOULDER, Colo. — Neighbourhoods once filled with million-dollar homes and scenic mountain cabins have become piles of smoking rubble.
On one lot, all that survived was a tennis court.
On others, all that’s left are crumbling, ash-covered foundations.
They were among the nearly 170 homes destroyed by a Colorado wildfire that showed no signs of relenting Thursday as wind gusts of up to 60 mph (96 kph) threatened to send the flames into the heart of Boulder.
Authorities told residents on the west side of Boulder to be prepared to evacuate if the wildfire moves into town, urging people to remove lawn furniture, brush and propane tanks that could fuel the fire.
The city is also mowing grass in open spaces to cut down on potential fuel, and telling residents to do the same.
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.
Employees there were allowed to leave work if they needed to go home to prepare of a possible evacuation, said spokesman James Burrus.
The frantic preparations in Boulder show the ferocity of the wildfire since it broke out Monday and spread to a 10-square-mile (16-square-kilometre) area.
It has since destroyed more homes than any other blaze in Colorado’s history.
About 3,500 people have been out of their homes for four days, and some residents have been frustrated with a lack of information about what was happening behind fire lines or 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 of people who got back into homes decided to stay and hunker down.
Authorities are investigating whether a vehicle crashing into a propane tank started the fire.
Houses in the area range from million-dollar sprawling homes with tennis courts and swimming pools to more modest ranch-style homes with wooden decks, some of which survived another fire in 1989. Homes are nestled on ridges and steep mountains, with winding roads leading to some of the homes.
The area also includes the historic town of Gold Hill, home to an Old West grocery store and structures once used for stagecoach stops. Crews managed to spare it from the fire.
Fire managers said as many 700 firefighters and support personnel and seven air tankers were assigned to fight the fire, considered America’s top firefighting priority.