Mar 28, 2022 - News

The NCAR Fire poses close call in Boulder

An air tanker drops slurry on the NCAR Fire on Saturday in Boulder. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

More than 100 firefighters across 30 agencies gained ground Sunday on a fast-moving wildfire in Boulder that began Saturday afternoon and caused the evacuation of more than 19,000 people near the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

  • The fire had burned nearly 190 acres of dormant trees and dry grass and was 35% contained as of Sunday afternoon, officials said in a news briefing.
  • No structures had been destroyed and no injuries had been reported. About 1,600 people and more than 600 homes remain in an evacuation zone.

The big picture: The blaze — which ignited Boulder just three months after the Marshall fire destroyed 1,000 homes and killed two residents — is an example of a "relatively small fire posing disproportionately high risk to homes in wildland-urban interface," UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted Sunday.

  • "Should an ignition have occurred exactly the same place during one of Boulder's infamous downslope windstorms, it could have been a catastrophic event."

The intrigue: The fire could "ultimately serve as an unplanned 'prescribed burn' that could help improve ecosystem health [and] protect parts of South Boulder during future fires," Swain said.

  • "Anytime that we have fire on the landscape and we don't lose structures and we have no injuries … we can see that there is an upside to it," Smith noted.

Of note: The NCAR fire differs from the Marshall Fire in several ways, including less wind power to fuel it and officials' use of firefighting aircrafts, according to incident commander Mike Smith.

  • The quick response "combined with all of the fuel mitigation treatments that we’ve done in this area is one of the reasons that we’ve had such great success," Smith said.

What's next: Officials expect the fire to last several days because of heavy fuels and will continue corralling the flames up into the rocks and snow.

  • The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.

The bottom line: Boulder-area wildfires have likely worsened in recent years due to the effects of climate change, and drought conditions are likely to persist and even expand across the West this spring.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.


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