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Colo. Wildfire Keeps Families From Their Homes

An out of control wildfire continues to rage in the foothills west of Boulder, Colo. Dozens of homes have been destroyed and thousands evacuated in the hills and canyons above the city. This has been one of the most destructive wildfires to hit the region in years.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

An out-of-control wildfire continues to rage in the foothills west of Boulder, Colorado. Thousands of people have been driven from their homes. Officials know that dozens of houses have burned, but think the figure could go higher when they can fully assess the blaze that has charred 7,000 acres. The fire started on Labor Day. It's one of the worst and costliest blazes to hit that part of the country in years.

Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC reports from Boulder.

KIRK SIEGLER: A thick cloud of smoke and ash obscures what would normally be a sunny, Indian summer day in this college town at the base of the Rocky Mountains.

(Soundbite of air tanker engines)

SIEGLER: The skies are a freeway of air tankers and choppers. They buzz overhead, bringing water to drop on the fire burning in the foothills just a few miles to the west of town.

Homeowner Mindy Mullins watches all of this nervously. She cut her vacation short and flew back from South Carolina yesterday after learning that the wildfire had ripped through her mountain subdivision.

Ms. MINDY MULLINS: I'm expecting it not to be there. But if it is there, it's very exciting.

SIEGLER: Mullins has none of her possessions, except for her dog, which she had left with friends in town.

Ms. MULLINS: We know nothing about the house. We know that there was a firefighter at the beginning of our neighborhood who lost his house.

SIEGLER: In fact, at least nine firefighters who were out fighting the blaze on Labor Day have lost their homes in the fire.

(Soundbite of conversations)

Unidentified Man: We were going to wait for the flames but then the smoke got so thick...

SIEGLER: Many homeowners anxiously awaiting news about their homes have spent much of the last day and half in downtown Boulder at this fire information post, looking for updates and answers about when they'll be allowed back in.

Unfortunately for them, the fire's incident commander, Don Whittemore, couldn't give much news.

Chief DON WHITTEMORE (Incident Commander, Boulder Fires): Please realize that our priority right now, is making sure that the public is safe, that the firefighters are safe, and that we're dedicating the resources we have available to continuing to try to save the homes and the other improvements that are out there.

SIEGLER: Whittemore says firefighters have spent most of their time trying to save homes, because conditions have been too dangerous to actually go up to the front lines of the flames.

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter has declared a state of emergency here. That's freeing up $5 million of state money to pay for fighting the fire. Federal resources are also coming in. After a tour of the blaze's southern flanks, the governor urged homeowners not to sneak past roadblocks to check on their property.

Governor BILL RITTER (Democrat, Colorado): The most important thing is to allow the firefighters to do their business. And that can only happen if they're not having to argue with people about re-evacuating, or evacuating from their property.

SIEGLER: This is not the first time that David Meyers has been evacuated from his home up Boulder Canyon.

Mr. DAVID MEYERS: I mean, you go through this drill. I mean, we live in the mountains. We've been through this drill before.

SIEGLER: But Meyers says it's never been this serious. He says he grabbed just the essentials and hosed his house down before fleeing down the mountain.

Mr. MEYERS: So I think my house had a good spritz right before it probably burned down, since I just like hosed down all the boards.

SIEGLER: Fire officials say it could be several more hours, if not days, before people like Meyers will know that for sure.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Boulder, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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