BOULDER, Colo. — All evacuations have been lifted in the 189-acre NCAR Fire burning near the National Center for Atmospheric Research facility in Boulder as crews report a 35% containment level, according to an update provided by fire officials Sunday.
Late Saturday night, the evacuation zone was updated with evacuees residing in the outer half-mile perimeter around the fire given the all-clear to go home, leaving 1,600 people unable to return. But the City of Boulder lifted all evacuation notices for the NCAR Fire at 5 p.m. Sunday. All evacuees may now return to their properties.
With the exception of NCAR Road, all roads in the area are now open. Officials anticipate that NCAR Road will remain closed for several days. Law enforcement officials are also allowing people to retrieve vehicles left at trailheads in the area.
Initial evacuation notices issued Saturday afternoon immediately after the fire broke out affected around 19,000 people and more than 8,000 homes. However, Maya Washburn with Boulder Fire Rescue said Sunday morning those numbers dropped to 1,629 people and 699 housing units and 836 buildings. No structures have been lost.
The evacuation area included parts of south Boulder downhill from the NCAR facility and the southwestern area near Table Mesa. Officials with the University of Colorado Boulder said they evacuated people from their south campus as well. Pre-evacuation notices were also issued.
The East Boulder Community Center served as an evacuation point. Evacuees were invited to go there for more information and resources. The Red Cross said they provided shelter to 44 evacuees overnight Saturday. One of the evacuees who stayed at the shelter, Elliott Bloome, said last year's destructive Marshall Fire was fresh on everyone's mind.
"The Marshall fires were on the tip of everyone's tongue. And that's kind of why everyone took this very seriously," said Bloome. "I already had stuff prepared. I have a box to take, mementos that I take."
Officials said Sunday they are optimistic calmer winds will help firefighters with containment. Winds are expected to shift to the west and northwest but will be more manageable as far as gusts, which are expected to reach as high as 20 mph Sunday.
Incident Commander Mike Smith said during an afternoon briefing that crews made progress Sunday due to the lighter winds. He said the fire appears to be losing forward progress and is confident containment will grow.
The wind played a major role in hampering firefighting efforts Saturday. Powerful gusts whipped flames, causing the fire to grow very fast after it was first reported around 2 p.m. There have been no reports of loss of structures or injuries at this time. The cause is not yet known but firefighters said a probable origin point has been identified.
"Currently it’s under investigation. I know that the sheriff’s department is actively working on it. I think we have the origin area identified but we don’t have an actual cause yet,” said Smith during a Sunday morning press briefing.
More than 200 firefighters from over 30 agencies fought the blaze Saturday as air tankers and helicopters dropped slurry on the fast-moving fire. Those efforts increased containment, which was at 35%, and continued Sunday with around 110 firefighters and two air tankers working the fire, officials said.
The NCAR Fire is burning in an area close to the Marshall Fire that destroyed 1,000 homes last year. Smith, who served as the incident commander for the Marshall Fire, says things were different this time because they were able to use aircraft to fight the fire and multiple agencies were prepared to work together.
“One of the things we learned from the Marshall fire was how to rapidly escalate and integrate multiple agencies and get them to work together, and I think we had a seamless process on this one. We continue to learn from everyone of these fires and we certainly saw an improvement," said Smith.
Boulder officials said while it is now safe for evacuees to return home, people in the area of the fire should remain vigilant. Fire officials do not anticipate fully extinguishing the fire for several days.