Wildfires threaten 2nd town

BOULDER, Colo. —Hundreds of people evacuated during one of the most destructive wildfires in Colorado history returned to their scorched homes Sunday, surrounded by the dreary sight of burnt trees, melted mailboxes and uneven patches of blackened ground.

Residents were allowed to return to their homes in the Boulder foothills as residents about 35 miles away fled their houses and anxiously watched television images of another fast-moving wildfire that has already destroyed at least one Loveland-area home and grown to about a square mile in size. No injuries have been reported in that fire.

In Boulder, firefighters inched closer to fully containing the blaze that has burned 10 square miles and authorities investigated what caused it.

A senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told the Denver Post that authorities are looking into whether a fire pit sparked the wildfire, which could mean criminal charges are possible. The newspaper did not name the official.

Authorities previously said the fire may have started after a vehicle crashed into a propane tank. The sheriff's office is aware of the Post article but won't comment on the cause or origin of the fire because it's under investigation, said Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for the fire response.

Like other residents, Nancy and Jim Edwards picked up a permit Sunday morning to re-enter their neighborhood, but they found out that the road leading to where they live is still closed. Jim Edwards said they might drive as far as they're allowed.

"We might take a ride, but it is really heartbreaking to see the stuff," he said.

Edwards said he spotted their house through a telescope from Flagstaff Mountain outside Boulder and saw that it was destroyed.

"It looked like a nuclear disaster," Nancy Edwards said. She said they plan to rebuild.

Fire officials warned that much of the area is dangerous because of downed power lines and poles, damaged roads and exposed mine shafts.

Still, Boulder firefighting operations were being scaled back and some crews were being relieved six days after the wildfire erupted and quickly destroyed at least 166 homes. The blaze was 73 percent Sunday and officials said full containment was expected by Monday evening.

Fire spokesman Terry Krasko said Sunday firefighters have been overwhelmed by the community's gratitude and are especially touched by a wall of thank-you notes at their command camp.

"That's probably one of the hardest walls for all the firefighters to go up to," Krasko said. "They really have a tough time with that. The community support has been tremendous for them."