Firefighters respond to fire near Table Mesa as forecasters warn of danger

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Unusually warm and dry weather along the Front Range Saturday sparked a Boulder bushfire that broke out just northwest of the devastating Marshall Fire in December.

The fire of unknown origin near Table Mesa started around 2 p.m. Saturday. Boulder authorities sought help from several departments to supply brush trucks and wildfire teams. They also requested the evacuation of approximately 1,200 people from nearby neighborhoods extending to the area near the origin of the Marshall fire as a precaution.

By 7 p.m., the fire had grown to 122 acres, and firefighters had no containment. But the winds had abated, giving hopes that nearby homes could be protected, said Marya Washburn, public information officer for Boulder Fire and Rescue.

“The winds are dropping now, so we expect the weather to work more in our favor,” Washburn said. “When the fire started, we had quite strong winds.”

Winds near the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Mesa Laboratory, where the fire started, were gusts of up to 35 mph. NCAR quickly became the staging area for more than 50 firefighters and equipment.

Kevin Beaty, Denverite
Wildland firefighters look down on a blaze near Boulder’s Table Mesa on Saturday.

Aircraft dropped slurry on the fire, while firefighters placed a “wet line” of water between the burning brush and structures.

“We are doing everything we can to keep structures safe and protect as much as possible,” Washburn said.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A plane making slurry flies over a forest fire near Boulder’s Table Mesa on Saturday

Residents were evacuated from neighborhoods in Table Mesa on the east side of South Boulder and El Dorado Canyon. The East Boulder Community Center opened as a shelter.

Brian Oliver, the head of the wildfire division for the Boulder Fire and Rescue, and one of the incident commanders at the NCAR fire, said firefighters would work at night to halt the fire’s forward progress, clear all structures. protect and get a containment line in place.

“The crew has made excellent progress keeping it out of the subdivision,” Oliver said.

He praised efforts to reduce the fire, including thinning of vegetation by Boulder open space workers for fire control, but said the fire broke out because trees in the area remain dry and dormant and the grass is still brown from winter.

As if at the right time, the fire burst to life Saturday just after morning warnings from the National Weather Service that the sudden onset of warm weather and strong winds would create fire-friendly conditions.

“Even with only elevated fire conditions, it’s definitely advisable to avoid certain activities that could cause sparks,” said Bruno Rodriguez, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Boulder. “Avoid lawnmowers, chainsaws, that sort of thing.”
The Marshall fire started on December 30 in winds close to 100 mph, ripping through open space and destroying more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Superior and Louisville. The debris has yet to be cleared from that fire, adding to the fears of Boulder residents when smoke was noted near the Flatirons.

First responders’ first concern Saturday was clearing a busy El Dorado State Park and the numerous trails around the Flatirons, packed with hikers taking advantage of the weather.

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