BOULDER — Flames driven by powerful, shifting winds destroyed homes near Niwot Wednesday and prompted evacuation warnings for 11,250 Boulder County homes, then took an ominous turn toward Boulder.
Overnight, officials said a total of six structures were damaged or destroyed, including three residences and three outbuildings.
As of 5:30 a.m. this morning, the official estimate of terrain burned grew to 3,000 acres.
Two wildfires ignited Wednesday afternoon burning mostly grassland and brush near U.S. 36 northeast of Boulder.
Crews were concentrating on protecting structures in the path of the Olde Stage Road wildfire, which had not been contained.
Two firefighters received minor injuries, there was one unconfirmed citizen injury, and seven horses and one dog were missing, said Boulder Sheriff's Cmdr. Phil West.
About 9,600 acres were closed to residents.
Ranch owners loaded hundreds of horses and llamas onto trailers and fled in long caravans to safety.
"We can't stop the fire, so we're concentrating on protecting structures," West said of a strategy dictated by fickle Chinook winds that peaked at 75 mph. Chinooks blow warm, dry air down the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains in winter and early spring.
As the fire approached the Dakota Ridge and Boulder Heights subdivisions in northwest Boulder in the evening, the fire's intensity decreased as the winds died down. But West warned that the "dirty burn" fire left unburned pockets of land behind — including 200 homes — and could start burning if the winds shifted again.
I grew up in Boulder Heights. Fire danger was one of several reasons my parents were all too happy to sell their house. I loved growing up there. It was a great place to be a kid, but has changed dramatically. I had a horse and could ride for hours, cross property lines with people's permission, and wander the back woods forever without seeing another human being. The Chinooks are the worst. We put in a steel door on the west side of our house because of the winds, and they still bowed it. Boulder trumps Roswell in wind gusts, and I thought the wind in Roswell was miserable. At least in Boulder it didn't last long, in Roswell it's interminable.