The Black Tiger Fire started on July 9, 1989, in the foothills of Boulder County northwest of the City of Boulder. At the time, it was the most destructive wildfire in terms of property loss and damage in Colorado history.
- Within the first five to six hours after ignition, 44 homes and other structures were destroyed and many others were damaged. The fire was not completely extinguished until four days later.
- The fire burned almost 2,100 acres.
- Loss estimates of homes and natural resources amounted to $10 million, and the cost to control the fire was another $1 million.
- More than 500 fire fighters from local, state and federal fire agencies worked to eventually contain the fire and protect the numerous other homes built in the rustic surroundings. Some of the firefighters’ own homes were threatened or destroyed by the fire. Only a few minor fire fighter injuries were reported and one resident was hospitalized from burns.
The result of this wildfire, especially the loss of the homes, represents an increasingly common example of the risks of building homes in what is called the wildland/urban interface (WUI), the term for a border zone where structures (mainly residences) are built in wildland areas that by nature are subject to fires. This fire, which soon outran the fire defenses in difficult terrain, demonstrated the predictable effects of a combination of factors: lack of rainfall, prolonged heat spell, wind, sloping topography, buildup of forest fuels, construction factors affecting the susceptibility of the home to fire, use of combustible construction materials, poor site access for emergency vehicles, and lack of a home’s site maintenance for fire protection. These factors plus the number of homes that were quickly threatened compounded the problems for the fire fighters.
More information about this fire can be found in the Black Tiger Fire Case Study Summary Report prepared by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) at the request and in cooperation with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department.
View more on the history of wildfires in Boulder County.