"It just exploded": CalWood burns 7,000 acres, causing thousands to leave the foothills of Boulder County
Structures feared that nearly 3,000 people, including the entire city of Jamestown, were ordered to evacuate
An explosive new wildfire northwest of Boulder destroyed more than 7,000 acres in a matter of hours on Saturday, prompting the evacuation of Jamestown and large swaths of the Boulder County foothills while sending a tower of billowing smoke over the subway.
Burning between Jamestown and Lyons, the CalWood fire is suspected to have already burned "any buildings," but it remains unconfirmed, said Mike Wagner, division chief of the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, during a briefing on Saturday night.
"It just burned," said the late-season wildfire.
The fast-moving current fire erupted on a dusty, windy day that also saw renewed expansion of the 2-month-old Cameron Peak fire in Larimer County — the biggest wildfire in modern history in Colorado — and the more recent East Troubling fire in Grand County.
The latest wildfire burned 7,064 acres, or about 11 square miles, in an area north of Lefthand Canyon, emergency management officials said. At one point, the fire crossed U.S. 36 between Boulder and Lyons, burning about 60 acres on the east side of the highway, Wagner said.
At an evening briefing, Cameron Peak firefighting managers said they had been in touch with their colleagues in Boulder County about the growing wildfire there and sent crews to track the controlled north end of Larimer County fire.
"It was 5,000 acres in three hours," said Dan Dallas, commander of the Cameron Peak fire incident.
Compulsory evacuation warnings hit 1,646 homes, covering 2,984 individuals, county officials said. Additionally, Lyon residents, including those on Apple Valley Road up to U.S. 36, were urged to be ready to evacuate Sunday if the course of the fire shifted.
Sunday, crews can return to air while more supplies are set to flood in to combat the fire.
"Their biggest objective is to try to smash it as hard as they can to knock out as much fire as they can before the winds start picking up later in the day," said Wagner.
Boulder County sheriff officials confirmed the fire at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, firefighters responded to a 1-acre wildland wildfire that began near the Cal-Wood Education Center, a popular spot near Jamestown for outdoor learning schools.
Shortly thereafter, officials ordered the evacuation of Jamestown, a historic community of fewer than 300 people some 15 miles northwest of Boulder devastated by the 2013 floods.
A map circulated by Boulder emergency officials indicated a large evacuation zone on one side, west of the Peak to Peak Highway, from U.S. 36 to Hygiene and Haystack Mountain on the east side, and from Jamestown on the south side, north to North Sheep Mountain. Authorities lifted evacuations east of U.S. 36 later Saturday night.
"It's got huge easy"
Some who escaped the spreading flames checked in at 3460 N at Boulder County's North Broadway Complex. Broadway, where evacuees could obtain additional shelter options information.
"We saw all the heavy smoke over the hill," Bill Sutton said, evacuating from Jamestown with his girlfriend Karla Refoxo and their pet Diosita about 3:30 p.m.
Refoxo brushed tears from her eyes as she left her Jeep at Boulder's evacuation point.
"Emotional," she said. "I'm just feeling all wildlife."
Refoxo, who recently relocated from California, said she's used to wildfire evacuations. Sutton said she knew what to do, and the pair began packing as soon as they saw the fire moving.
"It happened quickly," said Sutton.
For Jean and Dixon King, evacuating Saturday wasn't new. They stayed 46 years in Jamestown, last evacuated in 2003. They keep a list in the refrigerator of everything they need to escape
But Kings didn't know where they'd stay Saturday night. Their daughter lives nearby, but is suffering from COVID-19 and at high risk. The home, they're not concerned. "Sorry, we're too old! "Jean's said
The couple filled their car with everything they needed — medicine, photos, old clock, false teeth, Jean said. When their house burns down, she said with a grin, "Ok, we won't clean the garage."
Tara Veffella and Paul Rahn monitored Cameron Peak fire from their home in Lyons on Saturday when they knew they had another fire to think about.
"It's got huge easy," Rahn said.
They picked and jammed their mountain bikes, laptops, valuable papers. Then they did "an annual yard work in two hours," Rahn said, raking leaves, setting sprinklers.
Eddy and Lisa Showers live 12 miles outside Lyons and hurried to pack everything after getting evacuation notices.
"We hope against hope," Eddy said.
Lisa saw the fire passing Colorado 72 and Colorado 7 this afternoon. "It's been massive," she said.
On Friday, Eddy had a talk with a working friend about what to take in case of evacuation: "It just makes you wonder what's important in your life."
Mid-afternoon Saturday, Boulder's National Weather Service tweeted a satellite image showing the latest wildfire along with the Cameron Peak fire and described the CalWood fire as "explosive fire development" on Saturday afternoon.
High winds fanned the fires of the latest wildfire. Saturday, the Mesa lab at the National Center for Atmospheric Research reported gusts up to 59 mph in Boulder County.
However, at night, the National Weather Service announced that a cold front arriving at the lower elevations of both CalWood and Cameron Peak fires would bring cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity, which would help decrease fire activity overnight.
Saturday afternoon, the Colorado Transportation Department advised passengers to stop needless trips to Boulder and Larimer counties due to wildfire activity.
The fire caused multiple roadblocks, including:
U.S. 36 Lyons and Boulder
Colorado 7 / South St. Vrain Drive to Peak Highway and Lyons, like Riverside Drive
U.S. 34 from Estes Park's Mall Road east of Dam Store
The open space areas were also closed due to the crash, emergency officials said.
Emergency management officials said people might take their cattle to Longmont's Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Path, for refuge. People will also be required to carry their dogs to the North Broadway evacuation point or the Boulder Valley Humane Society at 2323 55th St. in Boulder.
The fairgrounds will accommodate around 450 horses, said manager Joe LaFollete, aiming for 100 more extra shelter. County employees have instructed people to carry their horses to Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
Debbie Fedorcyzk was with her daughter at a Triple Creek Ranch horse show in Longmont when the evacuation order arrived. It evacuated 60 horses to the fairgrounds.
"Fire really rose up quickly and smoke came up quickly," she said. "We were happy we had a horse show going on because we had a lot of adults and trucks to help get horses back."
The quickly spreading blaze caused Boulder County authorities to release a local warning alert on Saturday afternoon.