- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 7, 2010

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Firefighters ramped up their fight Tuesday against a 3,500-acre wildfire that has forced about 3,000 people to evacuate and destroyed dozens of homes near Boulder, including some that belonged to firefighters.

Calmer winds were in the forecast, and authorities planned to dump two to three times the amount of fire retardant from the air than they did Monday, when gusty winds grounded air tankers for much of the day, Boulder County sheriff’s Cmdr. Rick Brough said.

Fire officials said Monday that dozens of homes have been destroyed, but Cmdr. Brough had no details Tuesday on exactly how many were lost.

The blaze broke out Monday morning in Four Mile Canyon northwest of Boulder and rapidly spread across 5½ square miles, or 3,500 acres. Erratic 45-mph gusts sometimes sent the fire in two directions at once. Cmdr. Brough said there is no indication it was intentionally set.

Crews managed to save the historic town of Gold Hill, including an Old West grocery store and structures once used for stagecoach stops. But firefighters in the area had to relocate their engines and equipment several times to avoid the flames.

Four homes belonging to firefighters were destroyed. Those firefighters were allowed to leave their duties to attend to their families and personal affairs, said Laura McConnell, a spokeswoman for the fire management team.

The lack of information about the fire frustrated residents who gathered for a morning news briefing on the blaze.

There’s no information about anything … I am so frustrated,” Ronda Plywaski said. She said that she, her husband and their two German sheperds, Loki and Doba, left their home Monday after getting a reversve 911 call. They spent the night at an evacuation center at the University of Colorado.

“I just want to know if my house is OK,” she said.

Pabel Bouska, president of the Sunshine Fire Protection District, was out of town when the fire started and has not seen his home since. “I understand the precaution that the management of the incident are exercising,” he said. But he added that some of the evacuees already have more information than officials are releasing.

After the news conference, evacuees stood in small groups exchanging stories and information. Some hugged and others wiped away tears.

On Monday, winds pushed the fire through three canyons where pine trees have been left prone to fire by disease, drought and beetles that burrow under the bark of the trees, fire managers said. Such beetles have killed more than 3.5 million acres of trees in Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.

“We haven’t had any rain there for almost a month. Maybe more than a month,” said Craig Douglas, who lives north of the fire and received a knock on the door from a sheriff’s deputy about 8 p.m. Monday. “The humidity the last couple of days has been in the single digits, so it was a fire waiting to happen.”

The evacuation was hampered by a failure of the county’s reverse 911 system. Cmdr. Brough said the system was down for about two hours Monday, leaving authorities to rely on the media to get out word of the fire.

“Whether they fixed it or healed itself, we don’t know,” Cmdr. Brough said of the system.

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