Flagstaff fire in Boulder update: 100 percent containment by the weekend?

Editor's note: Click for the latest on the Flagstaff fire near Boulder.

Update: Given the horrors inflicting on the residents of Colorado Springs by the Waldo Canyon fire, and those living in and around Fort Collins by the High Park fire, Boulderites should be counting their blessings.

The Flagstaff fire near the town limits, which seemed so threatening just a few days ago, has turned out to be far less damaging than feared, and 100 percent containment could come as early as this weekend.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management website's latest update, from last night, puts the current containment at around 40 percent -- up just a smidge from yesterday. But while wind gusts overnight were expected to potentially stir hot spots, necessitating crews on hand to stay alert, the conditions on the ground mitigate against huge growth. (A spot fire on Green Mountain flared up yesterday afternoon, but was soon brought under control.) And indeed, the acreage consumed remains in the range of 300. That's a mere speck in comparison with the 16,000-plus engulfed at Waldo Canyon, not to mention the more than 87,000 associated with High Park. No structures have been destroyed by Flagstaff, and residents in south Boulder who'd been asked to keep their sprinklers running as a way to dampen potential fuel were given the all-clear to turn the systems off around 4 p.m.

As the Boulder Daily Camera points out, experts say areas within the burn zone could smolder and smoke for months before finally flickering out of existence. But all the evacuees are now back home, and before long, the Flagstaff fire may be little more than a memory.

Look below to see more photos from our Flagstaff fire gallery, followed by our previous coverage.

Update, 6:58 a.m. June 28: With the High Park fire near Fort Collins having incinerated a large chunk of the region for weeks and the Waldo Canyon fire outside of Colorado Springs doubling in size and wiping out hundreds of homes, fears were high that the Flagstaff fire near Boulder would become yet another large-scale disaster in a state already dealing with far too many of them. At this writing, however, local authorities appear to have dodged the fate experienced by folks living to the north and south. Although a federal Type 1 management team had been expected to take control of the Flagstaff fire yesterday, there remains no federal InciWeb page devoted to it. As such, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management's web page remains the main repository for information, and it contains good news, relatively speaking.

The fire is estimated to be in the 280-300 acre range -- up a bit from the 230 acres thought to have been engaged at this time yesterday, but modestly so. Moreover, containment is now at 30 percent, and due in part to some well-timed heavy rain on Wednesday afternoon, the relative humidity rose into the 50-60 percent range -- enough to squelch significant growth overnight.

The BOEM points out that hard fire lines are in place on the west and south borders of the fire zone, with fire retardant serving as a barrier to the east and north. Even so, no structures have been destroyed to date, and pre-evacuation notices for the south Boulder residents who received them were cancelled last evening. As of now, those living in the 26 homes evacuated on Tuesday stand as the only Boulderites currently displaced.

Look below to see more photos from the Boulder Police Department of crews and equipment ready to extinguish the fire once and for all, followed by our previous coverage.

Original item, 7:38 a.m. June 27: As if the High Park fire near Fort Collins and the Waldo Canyon fire outside Colorado Springs weren't enough to terrify Front Range residents, a Boulder-area blaze dubbed the Flagstaff fire sparked to life yesterday, likely due to dry lightning. And while only 26 homes have been evacuated at this writing, thousands of additional residents have been warned that they may have to split should the flames head their way. The U.S. Forest Service is set to take over management of the response today -- meaning that at this writing, the best source of information about Flagstaff is the website for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management, which has been working overtime to keep community members apprised of what's going on.

The BOEM announced that a fire was burning near Bison Drive east of Walker Ranch in the foothills of southern Boulder County at 2:51 p.m. yesterday. A heavy air tanker was immediately dispatched, and 39 pre-evacuation notices were sent to area residents. After about an hour, those notices were transformed into evac orders for 26 households. Shortly thereafter, a total of 2,416 reverse notifications were sent out to other residents in the vicinity of the fire. Others, including the staff at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), voluntarily evacuated.

The fire isn't enormous at this point: approximately 230 acres, revised downward this morning from the previous estimate of 300. But as is the case with the Waldo Canyon fire, which is modest in comparison with the leviathan High Park blaze but mighty close to populous areas, the Flagstaff fire could become more threatening than its size implies should it gain a foothold -- and given current conditions, there's no shortage of fuel. The BOEM lists containment at 0 percent. At 8 a.m., aerial firefighting operations are scheduled to begin, with gear including two heavy tankers, two Type 1 helicopters and two Type 3 choppers. A pair of hand crews -- part of the (update) 250-strong contingent working the fire at this early stage -- will initially focus on the southwest flank of the fire zone in challenging conditions. Humidity is forecast to be in the 15-20 percent range, and winds should blow steadily, gusting at times up to about 25 miles per hour. That's modest for Boulder, but very unhelpful when it comes to taking Flagstaff down.

Look below to see videos of the fire -- the first courtesy of the Boulder Daily Camera, with those that follow shared by regular folks impacted by yet another wildfire in a season that's just getting started.

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More from our News archive: "Waldo Canyon fire update: 32,000 evacuations, homes destroyed."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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