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How Boulder's years-long mitigation efforts helped slow NCAR Fire's spread

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Posted at 4:48 PM, Apr 15, 2022

BOULDER, Colo. — Saturday will mark three weeks since the NCAR Fire burned through the Bear Canyon area in Boulder County. While it certainly left its mark, it could've been another fire nightmare were it not for Boulder's decades-long mitigation efforts.

During a presentation Wednesday to the city's Open Space Board of Trustees, the vegetation stewardship senior manager, Chris Wanner, shared how livestock grazing and forest thinning helped slow the NCAR Fire's spread.

"In a mitigated area or a grazed area, we were seeing flame lengths of one to two feet, which is a place where you may kind of pull the resources back. But you can directly attack the fire with hoses and water and hand tools," Wanner told Denver7 Friday. "When those areas burned, it burned less intensely than it would have historically or prior to our management in the area."

Compared with flames leaping nearly 12 feet into the air in untreated areas, the difference was night and day for firefighters.

"The fact that there was less fuel on the ground and [the fire] had burned less intensely gave us an opportunity to kind of jump on the fire quicker and hopefully, you know, have a direct impact on the size and the extent of the fire," Wanner said.

People like Carla Schaper, who lives in the Devil's Thumb neighborhood, are grateful for that.

"They've done goats first, and then cows for the grazing. They've just done a lot with, I think, thinning out the areas and assessing what's at risk," Schaper said. "I think the mitigation efforts have been really amazing."

Like many, she had just minutes to grab her belongings and evacuate.

"It was very scary. We went from getting ready for a birthday party to evacuating, so it happened in just a heartbeat," she said.

It took an all-hands-on-deck effort by multiple fire agencies to make sure people and homes remained safe and out of the fire's path. While the cattle may be unaware their hunger for grass played a big part, the city has taken notice as it tries to remain prepared for the next wildfire.

"We hope to increase those efforts and expand those efforts into the future, so we've got good treatment areas across the landscape," Wanner said.