This story was updated at 5:45 p.m. on Dec. 21. The fire is now 100% contained.

Just before 2 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 19, a structure fire began in Sunshine Canyon that jumped to wildland fuels. Soon after, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation orders for the 2900 block of Sunshine Canyon and it quickly grew to nearly 20 acres.

The home that first ignited was lost to the fire. Another home, on Bristlecone Way, was damaged. The fire is now 100% contained, as of Wednesday evening. Some 200 firefighting personnel had been assisting with the efforts, according to Boulder’s Office of Emergency Management (BOEM).

An estimated 937 people were in the original mandatory evacuation area, the county said, including 389 structures, of which 346 were homes. On Tuesday night, all areas under evacuation orders shifted to evacuation warnings — meaning, residents were told to be ready to evacuate within 1-4 hours.

They were encouraged, however, “to stay out of the area” if they don’t need to come back.

A Red Flag Warning was in place on Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Winds were expected to increase during this time. “Depending on weather and fire behavior evacuation orders may be re-issued for this area,” BOEM said.

The state of Zonehaven at 3:15 p.m. on Dec. 19.

No area in the City of Boulder was put under mandatory evacuation orders. The area between Linden Avenue and University Avenue was under an evacuation warning. But on Monday evening, it was lifted “due to limited fire spread and improving weather conditions.” Nowhere in Boulder proper remains under an evacuation warning.

In the late afternoon on Monday, 4th Street and Linden Avenue appeared nearly normal. A mail carrier delivered mail, carpenters framed a house, and people walked their dogs. Some, however, had packed their cars and were waiting for what came next.

On Wonderland Hill, at the edge of the evacuation warnings, Alan Stark, 76, was out with his dog. “You can’t do anything but grab your stuff, grab your pets, and get out of dodge,” he said. He added he wasn’t too worried, referencing the grassy open space across the street as a natural firebreak.  

Susan Camp, 51, watched the smoke come over the hill. She said she moved to the Wonderland Lake neighborhood a few months ago from Arvada, where she had watched smoke from the Marshall Fire almost a year before.

“It’s never easy to sit here and watch this happen to our world … it happens more and more,” Hill told Boulder Reporting Lab.

Smoke from the Sunshine Canyon fire on Linden Ave. on Dec. 19, 2022. Credit: John Herrick
Smoke from the blaze, taken at 4 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2022. Credit: John Herrick

Coming just 11 days before the Marshall Fire anniversary, the wind and dryness made the fire seem like a repeat, but there were signs of reassurance. This year has had considerably more precipitation over the last few months compared to last year, with 1.94 inches falling this October and November, versus .49 inches falling last year in the same time period. Still, this December, we’ve had essentially no moisture, so any wetness remaining in the land is from several weeks ago.

Winds are another factor. Though mid-day measurements at Boulder Municipal Airport clocked westerly winds averaging 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph, during the Marshall Fire, winds averaged 50 to 60 mph with gusts up to 115 mph.

Yet despite the decrease in speeds, the wind was still sufficient enough to prevent the launch of a SEAT, or a Single Engine Airtanker, which are planes that can drop 800 gallons of retardant on wildland fires. Though not confirmed, a requested launch was likely canceled due to the wind. Instead, the Boulder County scanner talked of launching Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UASs, likely referring to drones that could at least provide aerial coverage of the blaze.

“There are structure fire incidents,” the scanner said at 3:49 p.m. But the person reporting said that only one house, at least in that area, had been affected, and firefighters had established a perimeter to prevent spread.

Pictures were being posted to social media sites, with some who lived through the Marshall Fire offering packing advice to those being evacuated. Advice included packing “mementos and other irreplaceable sentimental items,” technology items and “important docs and passports,” and enough “clothes and toiletries for 5 days.”

Area under mandatory evacuation order in Sunshine Canyon via Boulder County, as of Monday night

Helpful Links: Keep up to date on county alerts on Everbridge. Watch for evacuations on Zonehaven.

People and Animal Shelters: Starting at 5:30 p.m. East Boulder Rec Center at 5660 Sioux Drive will be a shelter for those evacuated. For those with large animals, they can bring them to the Boulder County Fairgrounds at 9595 Nelson Road in Longmont. The Humane Society in Boulder at 2323 55th Street is taking small animals.

Tim Drugan

Tim Drugan covers wildfires, water and other climate change-related issues for Boulder Reporting Lab with a focus on explanatory and solutions journalism. He also is the lead writer of BRL Today, our morning newsletter. Tim grew up in New Hampshire and graduated from UNH with a degree in English/Journalism.

John Herrick

John Herrick reports on housing, climate, health and local government for Boulder Reporting Lab. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness.

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