BOULDER — Blue skies and sunshine set off Boulder in all its glory Saturday as normalcy returned to town.Concern that the Fourmile Canyon fire could move into the city ceased, as did the smoke pouring over the ridge lines. Firefighters say they have the nearly 6,500-acre blaze 56 percent contained and the calm winds and picture-perfect September weather have them optimistic that the wildfire won’t be growing any bigger.
“It’s staying put. Most of our operations are focusing inside the perimeter,” said federal firefighting team spokesman Terry Krasko. “We still have fire inside the perimeter but as I scan the infrared map from last night there’s a dramatic difference from two days ago to now. Things are looking a lot better.”
Full containment is now expected by Monday.
The Boulder blaze is among the most destructive in Colorado history, consuming at least 169 homes so far. In 2002, the Hayman fire burned down 133 homes and 466 outbuildings and charred 138,000 acres.
A list of homes and properties confirmed destroyed in he hometown newspaper, the Daily Camera, estimated the economic damage done to homeowners so far is at least $76.9 million.
Many of the 3,500 evacuated residents were allowed back in their homes Friday night, with the caveat that they may have to flee again should conditions change. Xcel Energy and Qwest Communications are repairing utilities in the area and phone service and power returned to some subdivisions Saturday.
Meanwhile, locals who remained shut out of their places combed through clothing, supplies and other donations at the Red Cross shelter set up downtown. So far, 30 cases have been opened up for those whose homes were destroyed and are in need of a new place to live, according to David Turner, the volunteer shelter manager for Red Cross, which is providing counseling, referrals and other services.
Firefighting efforts ballooned tenfold — from 100 to 1,000 personnel — since the blaze erupted Monday, but with the fire’s forecast looking promising, Krasko said “a light demobilization” of firefighters has begun.
Gov. Bill Ritter pledged $5.2 million to fight the fire and has said $4 million of it has already been spent.
Emergency-dispatch recordings reveal that the fire appears to have been human created. During the initial response, officials were recorded saying a vehicle colliding with a propane tank started the blaze.
Officials are hopeful the remaining evacuees can go home soon.
“We want to make it entirely safe before we let folks in,” said Krasko. “Safety conditions are going to improve day by day by day.”