Cold, damp weather on Sunday helped crews battle the Cal-Wood fire north of Boulder, but authorities say mandatory evacuations prompted by the dramatic blaze aren’t expected to be lifted soon.
“The high humidity and the mist and everything is helping,” said Jennifer Bray, a spokeswoman for the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management. “The firefighters are working hard, digging line.”
The downside of the weather was that aerial firefighting operations were paused until it lifted.
The fire has so far torched 8,788 acres and is 15% contained. It began about 12:30 p.m. Saturday near the Cal-Wood Education Center in Jamestown and quickly raced east.
Authorities announced Sunday night that at least 20 homes were destroyed by the fire on Saturday. Two more were damaged and two undeveloped lots were also destroyed, in addition to two historic structures in Heil Valley Ranch. “There is likely more structures that we just could not get to in that burn area,” said Division Chief Mike Wagner, with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.
Wagner said the good news is that no additional structures were destroyed on Sunday. He said fire activity on Sunday was negligible.
Meanwhile, a new fire started on Sunday afternoon to the southwest of the Cal-Wood burn area. The Lefthand Canyon fire was burning on about 5 acres as of 2 p.m. and had prompted the evacuation of 145 homes in and around the town of Ward.
Within minutes, more people — including those in the Gold Hill neighborhood — were being told to leave the area. By 6 p.m., the fire had torched nearly 303 acres.
The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center said it was sending an armada of aircraft to fight the Lefthand Canyon fire. The agency said homes are being threatened.
It’s not clear how the Lefthand Canyon fire ignited. Wagner said he didn’t know if the fire destroyed any structures.
The cause of the Cal-Wood fire also remains under investigation, but Wagner said natural causes have preliminarily been ruled out because there was no lightning in the area on Saturday.
The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Forest Service have launched a joint investigation into the fire, which is the largest — in terms of acreage — in Boulder County’s recorded history.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, who earlier in the week sent 22 deputies to help evacuate people from the Cameron Peak fire in Larimer County, said in a Facebook post late Saturday night that he fears many homes were lost in the Cal-Wood fire. “Wind and drought made for a no-win day.”
There are no active reports of people missing because of the fire. One firefighter was hurt, but their injuries were described as being very minor.
About 250 firefighters were on scene battling the blaze on Sunday. “More firefighting personnel are on tap and are beginning to arrive,” Wagner said.
The hope is that firefighters can build a line around the entire perimeter of the Cal-Wood fire and start lifting evacuations in the next day or so.
Most of the homes that were destroyed by the blaze were on Mountain Ridge Road just west of U.S. 36. A number of homes were destroyed along Foothills Ranch Drive and in Heil Valley Ranch.
“It’s all gone,” Courtney Walsh tweeted Sunday after learning that her home on Foothills Ranch Drive was destroyed by the blaze. “I’m gutted.”
A Type 2 incident management team has been ordered to take over control of the firefighting command.
Colorado has been enduring several months of wildfires. The Cameron Peak fire, west of Fort Collins, continues to rage. This week, it became the largest recorded wildfire in state history. By Sunday morning, the blaze had grown to more than 203,000 acres.
Over the summer, wildfires on the Western Slope scorched hundreds of thousands of acres.
On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor announced that all of Colorado is under drought status for the first time since 2013. Scientists have attributed months of hot, dry weather in the state to the effects of climate change.
Updated at 11:09 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020: This story has been updated to correct incorrect information from a source. At least 20 homes were destroyed by the Cal-Wood fire on Saturday. Two more were damaged and two undeveloped lots were also destroyed, in addition to two historic structures in Heil Valley Ranch.