Now that, at long last, the Fourmile Canyon fire near Boulder is 100 percent contained, attention is shifting to the homeowner whose fire pit is thought to have sparked the blaze, as well as the Reservoir Road fire near Loveland. But don't forget about Fourmile yet. Risks continue to abound for residents and firefighters alike.
"We still have unburned islands of fuel inside," notes public information officer trainee Greg Heule, our go-to morning man for fire information. "We're pretty confident the line will hold as we work on rehab of the fire line and getting it back in shape. But we've got a fire weather watch tomorrow," as well as the potential for lurking hot spots that could flare up again.
Example? A lot of the personnel on site -- still officially listed at 907, although some of them will be sent to work the Reservoir Road fire today -- are assigned to rehab duties. Among their chores, says Heule, is "dragging duff -- that's the decomposing pine needles and stuff on top of the soil itself. When we cut our fire line, we go down to what we call mineral soil. There's nothing left but dirt, and if you leave it like that without covering up, the next rain washes everything away really badly. So our rehab includes pulling that duff back over the line to help with that erosion process."
Problem is, Heule continues, "if we still have heat or fire inside the fire line, we have the potential of no longer having that fire line, so it's just going to take off again. So we have to make sure we have all the hidden fire out across the fire line before we pull that across the line and get the rehab going."
In the meantime, authorities are opening up two more portions of the burn area to residents: Melvina Hill and the Sunshine Town site, on County Road 83 off Sunshine Road. Folks who live there will be allowed back into the area at noon today -- two hours later than previous returns, which were marred by congestion problems due to the large numbers of firefighters and utility crews.
Only residents with passes issued by the Boulder County Sheriff's Office will be allowed access -- and officials are asking them to keep an eye out for issues that could cause serious problems.
"If residents see any heat or smoke or anything like that, they need to report it to the appropriate authorities right away, so we can take care of it," Heule stresses. "And there will be other hazards when people return. Things like trees that could come down, and also stump holes, where there had been a stump that burned and smoldered and created a hole in the ground that's nothing but hot ash. Stepping into that can cause serious injuries."
In addition, residents with surviving homes need to work with power companies to get the juice running safely. "If they have propane at their home, they have to get their tank inspected before they can get it refilled," Heule says. "They have to make sure there's no damage before actual usage."
At this point, there's no estimated time by which everyone will be able to return to the burn area, now more accurately estimated at 6,181 acres. (Approximately 75 percent of the areas will have been reopened to residents as of noon today.) Unfettered access will depend on conditions and progress with rehab, not to mention snuffing out any lingering embers that could ignite. But for locals who've been displaced for over a week, it can't come a moment too soon.
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