NCAR fire: Containment lines hold steady as firefighters prepare for another day of fire-friendly conditions

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A single-engine plane drops fire retardant around the NCAR fire burning near Boulder’s Table Mesa neighborhood. March 26, 2022.

The NCAR fire held steady overnight, with acreage and containment lines remaining about the same. The fire, now 35 percent contained, has so far burned 190 acres since it ignited Saturday afternoon near the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. 

Firefighters are optimistic of another good day toward full containment, but remain cautious due to continued high fire conditions and strong winds. 

“Wind is always a concern, but I'm confident our lines will hold,” incident commander Brian Oliver said at a Monday morning press conference.

Temperatures are expected to drop Tuesday, along with some light rain in the Boulder area. 

Nearby open space, including hiking trails close to the fire and Eldorado Canyon State Park, are still closed to the public, with no estimated time of reopening. Boulder officials are asking hikers to avoid accidentally wandering into the burn area. 

“The trails here are very web-like, so they might go on a trail to start that they think is open and then end up going closer towards the fire,” said Marya Washburn, public information officer for Boulder Fire-Rescue..

All remaining evacuation orders were lifted for residents near Boulder’s Table Mesa neighborhood Sunday night. Officials said the fire came within 1,000 yards of homes before forward spread was halted by containment lines.

The evacuation area covered a large swath of land in the Table Mesa neighborhood before being drastically shrunk Saturday evening. Washburn said they sent evacuation orders through notification systems not used during the Marshall Fire, which led to the initial zone being larger than necessary.

“We used Everbridge as well as [Wireless Emergency Alert] for this notification because we have that capability within the city,” Washburn said. “The extent of folks getting those messages isn't something that was in our control. That's in the control of the cell phone companies in the way that those messages get sent out via cell phone towers, as well as the technology people have on their phones.”

In hindsight, the initial evacuation site was bigger than needed, but Washburn said it was merited due to the unpredictable nature of the fire.

The smoke rising from Boulder County evoked memories of the Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in nearby Superior and Louisville in late December. The cause of both that fire, and the one on Saturday, remain undetermined. Washburn said the Boulder Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation into the cause.

Oliver said year round fire danger is likely part of life in Colorado now.

“Fire season's year round. If there's not active precipitation or snow on the ground, as you can see, it's March, this isn’t ‘fire season’ per se, and we just had a 200-acre fire,” Oliver said.

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