There's good news about the Maxwell fire near Boulder. The blaze has only consumed sixty acres, not the 100 acres originally estimated -- and high humidity helped firefighters bump the containment up from 25 percent to 40 percent.
But even as the fight goes on, authorities are looking for the person whose abandoned campfire lit the spark in the first place.
Public information officer Elsha Kirby describes the campfire as "the source of ignition" -- a discovery prompting a joint investigation pairing the U.S. Forest Service with the Boulder County Sheriff's Office. No word on suspects to date. Meanwhile, Kirby says, "the Forest Service will be taking a look at what's been happening in Lefthand Canyon over the past few months -- looking at options for changes in the management of the area, keeping weather, available resources and public safety in mind."
Regarding the fire itself, she notes that the 145 firefighters assigned to the battle, supplemented by a helicopter and two single-engine air tankers, worked later than usual yesterday in order to take advantage of moderate temperatures and 40 percent humidity. "They wanted to try to kill it as much as possible, so there would be less of a risk that the fire would get past the perimeter," she allows.
Steep, rocky conditions haven't made that easy, and with conditions expected to shift for the worse -- temps in the nineties, humidity down to 15 percent -- crews are watching the perimeter closely. Meanwhile, Kirby says some pockets of fuel remain unconsumed within the fire zone. Firefighters may burn some of it off today, depending on conditions -- and if they're able to do so, their efforts will produce the sort of smoke that could alarm residents. "We want people to know we may be doing that, so they won't be worried if they see more smoke," she says.
Meanwhile, folks at 340 residences remain on alert for possible evacuation, while a hard closure remains in effect for an area above Olde Stage Road -- "and it will remain closed until we remove the firefighting apparatus and firefighters and mitigate the huge amount of debris that's coming off the hillside onto the road," Kirby says. She thinks total containment could happen as early as today, but tomorrow evening may be more likely.
Original item, 12:40 p.m. June 27: There's never a good time for a fire, particularly during a period when conditions have been so dry in these parts.
But according to Boulder County Sheriff's Office spokesman Rick Brough, the Maxwell fire currently burning in Lefthand Canyon hasn't been able to go wild, at least thus far, due to relatively high humidity.
"The humidity was about 70 percent last night, and so yesterday, there was really no growth," Brough notes, adding, "When the humidity is up, it tends to keep fires down."
Right now, officials estimate that the fire has stretched across 100 acres, with 25 percent containment. However, they should have a more precise idea of the damage done to date soon. "They're planning to get a helicopter up at one o'clock today to do recon and figure out how much of the area has really burned," Brough says. "It can do bucket drops, and there are also two single-engine air tankers available. I don't know if they'll use them or not -- that depends on the evaluation. But there are already about eighty firefighters on the ground and two hot-shot crews coming this afternoon."
As for evacuations, Brough says there's a "hard closure" between Olde Stage Road and James Canyon Drive, where two or three homes are endangered, and a "soft closure" between Highway 36 to Olde Stage -- meaning residents can still get in, but others are currently prohibited.
The objective remains to "keep the fire from crossing onto the south side of Lefthand Canyon," Brough points out. "That's what they were doing last night -- trying to protect the subdivisions on the south side of Boulder Heights." And so far, so good.
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