Smoke billows from a wildfire in Marshall, Colo. a few miles south of Boulder
Associated Press/Dave Zelio

A fire that blanketed Boulder, Colo. in plumes of smoke this weekend was partially contained by Monday, but officials expressed concern about what might be in store for the months to come as “fire seasons” become an obsolete phenomenon in the western United States.

“There’s no longer a fire season,” incident commander Brian Oliver said at a press conference on Monday morning.

“Fire season’s year-round now,” he continued. “There’s really no season. If there’s not active precipitation or snow on the ground, as you can see, it’s March, there’s no fire season, per se, and we just had a 200-acre fire.”

The 190-acre conflagration — dubbed the “NCAR fire,” due to its proximity to National Center for Atmospheric Research — has caused neither structural damage nor injuries and had reached 35 percent containment on Monday, according to Marya Washburn, Boulder Fire-Rescue spokesperson.

But the damage could have been much worse, as authorities ordered the evacuation of at least 19,000 people from 8,000 homes on Saturday. While all evacuation orders had been lifted by Monday, the nearby El Dorado State Park remained closed, and Washburn stressed the importance of staying off the area’s hiking trails.

“We know that folks in the city of Boulder really like to get outside and like to go on these hikes,” Washburn said at the press conference. “If they can go to places that aren’t near the fire area, that would allow firefighters and the folks that need to work on this fire today and do the hard, good work that they’re doing.”

The NCAR fire — whose cause has yet to be determined — occurred less than three months after the devastating Marshall fire ravaged more than 1,000 homes in Boulder County. With the region’s residents still reeling from that event, Oliver described the weekend’s work as a “really successful firefight,” stressing that interagency coordination has been key.

“It’s really been a huge community effort and a big community win,” he said.

But as Oliver spoke, winds were audible in the background, which he acknowledged as a point of concern.

“We should be looking at increasing that containment number rapidly as things progress through the day,” he said. “The concern we really have is today’s weather. As you can hear, the winds are picking up a little bit.”

Crews would be working on Monday to ensure that the active fire area is “secure and buttoned up,” so that they could face the afternoon winds prior to expected precipitation on Tuesday, Oliver explained.

While the snow and moisture that has soaked into the soil over the past few wintry months has helped firefighting efforts, Oliver also identified a few disadvantages associated with fighting a fire so early in the spring.

“Because of the season, the grasses aren’t growing yet; they’re still dormant, so they didn’t take up any of that moisture — they’re not growing in green,” he said.

During the springtime “green-up phase,” grass begins growing and taking on moisture, and has far less ability to burn, according to Oliver.

“In the spring before green-up everything is still dormant, so it’s available for ignition,” he said. “Anywhere there wasn’t snow actually on the ground, the fuels were available for ignition.”

Tags Boulder Climate change Colorado wildfires
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