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Firefighters make headway on blaze near Boulder, Colorado

BOULDER, Colo. — Firefighters made progress Sunday in battling a small wildfire that forced people to flee hundreds of homes in the mountains just outside downtown Boulder, Colorado, and ignited dead trees that exploded into black plumes of smoke, authorities and residents said.

Wind was pushing the flames in the wooded area a couple of miles west of Pearl Street, the shopping and dining hub in the heart of the university city. Crews partially contained the fire that had burned just over 60 acres, but officials worried that stronger gusts expected later in the day could fan the flames.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management said 426 homes were evacuated before dawn and residents of an additional 836 were warned to get ready to leave if conditions worsened.

There were no reports of injuries or damage to homes, emergency officials said. Several aircraft were dropping water and retardant on the flames, and a community center has opened as an evacuation shelter.

Officials were not sure how the fire started in the Sunshine Canyon area that is dotted with a mixture of expensive homes and rustic mountain residences.

Seth Frankel, who was warned that he and his family may need to evacuate, said he had packed up “generations of things” that can’t be replaced and was ready to go if the air quality got worse.

He said smoke was pouring toward neighborhoods and many dead trees were combusting and sending black smoke into the air less than a half-mile from his home. But he and his wife, a Boulder native, and three daughters have dealt with fires and floods before.

“It’s always alarming and always on your mind, but it’s not an uncommon sensation around here,” said Frankel, who has lived in Boulder for 20 years.

In 2010, a wildfire destroyed nearly 200 houses in the mountainous area west of the city, home to the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Frankel got word of the fire early Sunday from a neighbor who received a warning call, and he was outside with neighbors watching the flames and smoke. But he let his daughters, 9, 11 and 13, sleep in.

“It’s still alarming, but there’s no panic,” Frankel said. “We will be long since gone when parents are no longer smiling.”