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Colorado's Record-Setting Wildfire Season Isn't Slowing Down

NOEL KING, HOST:

Late October is usually the end of wildfire season in Colorado, but not this year. Last weekend, two fires started near Boulder, and almost 3,000 people had to leave their homes. All this after a very bad fire summer. Here's reporter Matt Bloom from member station KUNC.

MATT BLOOM, BYLINE: On Saturday, the CalWood fire ignited about 10 miles north of Boulder. Warm weather and winds nearly 40 miles per hour quickly fanned the flames through a populated area of the Rocky Mountain foothills, sending a massive plume of smoke into the sky. Michael Douglas had recently moved there with his partner.

MICHAEL DOUGLAS: I think I remember looking it up on Twitter, trying to find hashtags. And, yeah, I mean, it grew to, like, 8,000 acres in that same day. It was just out of nowhere.

BLOOM: After getting the order to evacuate, he quickly corralled their dog and two cats and drove to a Holiday Inn several miles away. Then, 24 hours later, Douglas got more bad news. Another new fire had started just a mile down the road from their home.

DOUGLAS: You know, I think of Boulder being a fairly wintry town at this time of year. So for it to be, like, as hot as it is and as dry as it is, it's really surprising.

BLOOM: Fire danger has been unusually high in much of the Mountain West for months due to a major drought and higher-than-average temperatures. Local officials put fire bans in place this summer to help limit the risk.

MIKE WAGNER: I've been knocking on the door to almost 21 years, and I never remember us working two wildfires simultaneously.

BLOOM: Mike Wagner is a division chief for the Boulder County Sheriff's Office. He said it's unusual for his department to see so much activity this late in the season.

WAGNER: It's been taxing, right? We have moved to staff are working, deputies 12 hours on, 12 hours off with no days off. And it's just been a very steady impact.

BLOOM: The start of the week has brought cooler weather and calmer winds, which should aid firefighters in the air and on the ground. But thousands remain under evacuation orders. The two new fires have burned at least two dozen homes. So far, the cause for both remains under investigation.

Michael Douglas and his partner are still waiting to hear if their home made it through.

DOUGLAS: We're hopeful, but, you know, this is brand-new to me. I grew up in Ohio. We don't really have wildfires where I'm from. As much as we planned for different contingencies when we moved here, this is not one that we had, like, a plan A or B for.

BLOOM: Not far north, the Cameron Peak fire continues to burn after starting two months ago. At more than 200,000 acres, it's now the largest wildfire ever recorded in Colorado.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Bloom in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOSE WHO RIDE WITH GIANTS' "THE GUARDIANS OF THE DEEPNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.