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Evacuation orders lifted after wildfire scorches Boulder, Colorado, area

The NCAR Fire spanned 190 acres and was 68 percent contained as of Monday evening, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management said.

Evacuation orders were lifted Sunday evening for nearly 20,000 people after a wildfire burned in the Boulder, Colorado, area, officials said. 

The inferno, called the NCAR Fire, started Saturday, burning near the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Mesa Laboratory & Visitor Center and spanning 190 acres as of Monday morning, according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

The city of Boulder lifted all evacuation notices for the NCAR Fire at 5 p.m. Sunday. Officials noted that no injuries, missing people or damaged structures were reported in the fire, which was 68 percent contained as of Monday evening.

The evacuation order Saturday initially affected 8,000 homes. 

Image: Wildfire Forces Evacuations Near Boulder, CO
Amitai Beh, 6, watches the NCAR Fire through binoculars on March 26, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images

People were allowed to return home but urged to remain alert Sunday evening. 

“While it is now safe to return home, people in the area of the fire should remain vigilant,” the emergency management office said. Authorities expect the fire to continue to burn for several days until it’s fully extinguished. 

Over 150 firefighters from multiple agencies are tackling the flames Monday, according to the emergency management office.

The investigation into what caused the blaze is still ongoing. 

Mike Smith, incident commander with Boulder County, said in a Sunday briefing: “Today was a good day ... This morning was a little bit cooler, the wind was a little bit calmer and as we moved through the day we were happy to see that some of the winds that were forecast didn’t actually come to fruition."

In an update Monday, emergency management officials said wind is a concern but responders “feel confident fire lines will hold," citing the success of previous mitigation efforts.  

Brian Oliver, chief of the Boulder Fire Rescue Wildland Division, called response efforts a "really successful fire fight" and said crews are focused on securing the perimeter.

“We should be looking at increasing that containment number rapidly as things progress today,” he said, noting that the blaze will smolder for "quite a while."

Image:  Forces Evacuations Near Boulder
A tree goes up in flames as the NCAR Fire burns on March 26, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images

Darren Kelly, a resident of the Devil’s Thumb neighborhood in South Boulder, described seeing planes drop fire retardant as flames neared the fence of his home Saturday.

“It was kind of like a bomb had gone off,” Kelly said to NBC affiliate KUSA of Denver. “Maybe 1,000 feet away from our backyard.”

He said that though his family evacuated not knowing if they’d return, it’s not a new feeling for locals in the fire-ravaged area. 

“Unfortunately for some of us who live in the South Boulder area, we are sort of used to this,” he said.  

Authorities investigating the blaze’s origins said it began south of the Mesa Laboratory, where there’s a watershed, canyon and trails that cross from east to west, toward the Rocky Mountains.

“The fire started this afternoon down in the Bear Creek drainage,” Brian Oliver, chief of the Boulder Fire Rescue Wildland Division, said at a weekend press conference.

Emergency management officials said Boulder County Sheriff’s Office investigators were looking for potential witnesses who may have been on or near the trails south of the Mesa Laboratory around 2 p.m.

The NCAR fire is near the area destroyed by the Marshall Fire that started Dec. 30 and burned into 2022, marking the most destructive blaze in the state's history.

It consumed nearly 10 square miles, destroyed 991 homes and damaged 127 other structures. The cause remains undetermined, although a Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks ranger wrote a report that includes the possibility it had two ignition points.