Publisher’s note: This Friday’s BRL Today will be the final a.m. newsletter of 2022! Starting next Monday, we’ll be off for the holidays and then on a staff planning retreat during New Year’s Day week, to prepare to do even more for you in 2023 and grow into a 365-day-a-year newsroom.

Welcome to Wednesday, Boulder.

On Monday, just 11 days short of Marshall Fire’s anniversary, there was a fire up Sunshine Canyon. Coming on the same day we published a story about how fire response has changed in the year since last year’s tragedy, those changes were put to practice. The most notable was Zonehaven, a new evacuation and resource map recently released by the City of Boulder. During the fire, Boulderites could see which neighborhoods gained and lost evacuation warning status. On the county level, however, things were less clear.

So for today, I spoke with Marya Washburn and Mike Chard who handle emergency alerts for the city and county respectively, about some of the confusion during the fire. What’s the answer to the city and county operating on different platforms? The answer: Get them on the same platform.

Also, tonight it’s supposed to be wildly cold, with temperatures dropping enough to put anyone spending extensive time outside at risk of freezing. John Herrick reports on the city’s plans to open the East Boulder Community Center as temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness. “We are pretty concerned,” Kurt Firnhaber, the city’s director of Housing and Human Services, said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure everyone has a place to stay.” 

Enjoy hump day. And please be careful out there.

— Tim, reporter

What to know today

  • Mid-40s today, 1 tomorrow: The county put out tips, referenced below, for the extreme cold that will set in this evening. The biggest takeaway: Keep yourself, and your pets, inside. If you need something to keep your spirits up, know it’ll be almost 60 next week.
  • Sunshine Wildland Fire 65% contained; 1 home lost, another damaged: Last night, the area of Sunshine Canyon under evacuation orders shifted to evacuation warnings. Meaning, residents were allowed to return home but were told to be ready to evacuate within 1-4 hours. People were encouraged “to stay out of the area” if they don’t need to come back. A Red Flag Warning will be in place today from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. “Depending on weather and fire behavior evacuation orders may be re-issued for this area,” Boulder’s Office of Emergency Management said. Updated story.
  • Mental health services available: For those having trouble dealing with memories of the Marshall Fire as the Sunshine Wildland Fire abuts Marshall’s anniversary, there are support systems in place to help.
  • Homeless memorial remembers lives lost: Residents gathered at the Bandshell in downtown Boulder on Tuesday to remember the 55 people who have lived outside in Boulder and who died this year. Their names were printed on plaques that stretched from one end of the Bandshell to the other, as their friends, loved ones and neighbors read them aloud and recited poems and prayers. Several people were sleeping in tents along the outside edge of the Bandshell during the memorial, the night before an Arctic front was expected to send temperatures dropping to dangerous lows.
  • Meth use prompts library closure: The city has closed the main Boulder Public Library indefinitely after tests for methamphetamine showed “higher than acceptable levels.” The tests were conducted by swabbing air ducts in the downtown library.
    • “The testing stems from a recent spike in reports of individuals smoking in public restrooms over the past four weeks. On two occasions, city employees were evaluated and cleared of ongoing health concerns after experiencing symptoms consistent with a potential exposure to meth residue or fumes,” the city said in a news release on Monday.
    • Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant. The national epidemic of meth addictions is compounded by the fact that landlords often deny leases to people who have a recent addiction, making it a common cause and symptom of homelessness. Manufacturing meth can emit toxic chemicals and cause explosions.
    • The closure of the library is the latest example of how methamphetamine use has prompted the closure of resources homeless people rely on. The library is widely considered the city’s de facto day shelter as the city’s largest homeless shelter, the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, is closed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., unless daytime highs are forecast at or below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or at least six inches of snow is expected. Businesses are often forced to close restrooms due to meth use, too.
    • More studies are needed to understand the impacts of second-hand exposure to methamphetamine smoke, according to researchers. In a news release, the city told library patrons to see a health care practitioner if they are experiencing a headaches, nausea, dizziness, or fatigue, but that there is “no indication” they face “significant health risks.”
    • The Meadows, George Reynolds and North Boulder library branches will remain open. Dates for picking up on-hold items at the main library have been extended. Contact the library if you have questions regarding your holds. Book drops at the main library are closed. Hold your items for now, or return them to another location. There are no late fees.
  • Public health advisory for the cold: An Arctic front will be bringing temperatures to Boulder that are well below freezing. Because of this, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm advisory that runs from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning. There’s also a wind chill watch from Wednesday night through Friday morning. When heating through the cold front, don’t use anything that could put you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as stoves, barbecues or ovens. Some other tips, per the county’s website include:
    • If you plan to be outdoors, dress in layers of warm clothing, including a hat, scarf, gloves and socks.
    • Do not stay outdoors for extended periods.
    • Check on and help family members, friends and neighbors with limited mobility and limited access to heat, such as seniors or those who are ill. Check on them frequently.
    • If you have pets, bring them indoors and do not leave them outside overnight.
    • There’s also a risk of hypothermia in such weather. Signs to look out for include:
      • shivering
      • fatigue
      • loss of coordination
      • confusion and disorientation.
    • Late signs of hypothermia include:
      • no shivering
      • blue skin
      • dilated pupils
      • slowed pulse and breathing
      • loss of consciousness.
  • The county updated its COVID dashboard: The new design is intended to be more interactive and mobile-friendly. Boulder County Public Health will update the page, as they have been, every Friday except holidays.
  • Sunday’s mobile home fire possibly caused by heating unit: On Sunday, Dec. 18, a fire on the 4500 block of 19th Street damaged a home enough that its three inhabitants were displaced. No firefighters or residents were injured, and flames were kept away from neighboring buildings. The cause of the fire is unclear, though a likely possibility seems to be a heating unit.
    • The possible cause should encourage Boulderites to properly maintain and update their HVAC systems. Maintenance of the heating units can ensure that there isn’t dust or debris clogging the mechanisms, and that everything is operating as it should, especially when it comes to natural gas hookups.
      • “Furnaces and HVAC systems, if not probably maintained and updated, can become fire hazards,” reads the city website. “Regular maintenance of an HVAC system can help ensure that your HVAC’s electrical systems and gas connections are safe and operating normally and that dust and debris is not clogging or blocking necessary vents, filters, or coils.”

Go deeper

Boulder will open East Boulder Community Center as temporary shelter ahead of this week’s cold front

By John Herrick

The City of Boulder is turning the East Boulder Community Center into a temporary emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness in response to an Arctic cold front expected to send temperatures well below zero degrees Fahrenheit in the coming days. 

The shelter will be open and managed by the Red Cross from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning, according to Kurt Firnhaber, the city’s director of Housing and Human Services. 

Firnhaber said the East Boulder Community Center should be able to sleep about 50 people. The city’s largest adult homeless shelter — the nonprofit-run Boulder Shelter for the Homeless  — is also moving people into hotel rooms and has built additional bunk beds to sleep more people, according to a spokesperson. 

“We are pretty concerned,” Firnhaber told Boulder Reporting Lab on Tuesday. “It’s definitely dangerous weather that’s coming through this week. We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure everyone has a place to stay.” 

Temperatures are expected to plummet to minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit tonight, a near-record low capable of causing frostbite in a matter of minutes. Boulder County Public Health issued a health advisory on Tuesday due to “dangerously cold temperatures.”

The decision to open a temporary shelter comes as the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless has had to turn people away this month due to limited bed space.

Continue reading…

Sunshine Wildland Fire: Why were there so many different places to check for evacuation alerts and information?

By Tim Drugan

The City of Boulder recently released a new evacuation mapping system called Zonehaven. On Dec. 19, that mapping system got its first test. It worked well — well enough to make the county’s system seem clunky.

In the middle of the day on Monday, a structure fire up Sunshine Canyon jumped from a home to wildland fuels. With the help of gusting winds and several weeks of no moisture, the blaze, named the Sunshine Wildland Fire, quickly grew to nearly 20 acres. Those living up the canyon were placed under mandatory evacuation orders, and some neighborhoods abutting the foothills in Boulder proper were placed on evacuation warning. 

But there was confusion about notifications and evacuation maps. Why were there so many different places to check for information?

Continue reading…

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BRL picks

We launched a Local Events page right here on BRL. For now, we’ll still include highlights in these newsletters, but you can check out the full offerings whenever you’d like. Click reply for sponsorship opportunities related to events.

🕎 Hanukkah celebration, now inside the Longmont Museum: Tonight from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m., The Village at the Peaks event will now be held inside the Longmont Museum due to the cold. “Catch and collect chocolate coins from 75 feet in the air,” in a gelt drop. Latkes, donuts, crafts and more, for those braving the cold.

🎅 Christmas/Midwinter Revels – reminder: Tonight, at 7 p.m., the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder will present a holiday show that hearkens back to the days of trappers who fret that they might not make it home to their sweethearts in time for for the holidays. Tickets are $30.

🖼️ Marshall Renews, an open call for art: “A juried contemporary art show that explores the Marshall Fire’s impact on Colorado’s communities of Louisville, Superior, and Portions of Unincorporated Boulder County.” Local and impacted artists are invited to showcase art “exploring the paradox between renewal and ruin.” Dec. 30 – Feb 23, at 375 S. McCaslin Blvd, Suite B.

👀 Voces Vivas – Boulder County Latino History Exhibit: Everyday through February, you can learn more about local Latino history and stories of pride, pain and perseverance. On display at the Museum of Boulder (2205 Broadway).

Covid in Boulder County: Dec. 21, 2022

  • 18 patients hospitalized with Covid. ⬇️ Down from a high of 28 last week, according to Boulder County Public Health.
  • Boulder has decreased to the medium community level for Covid per CDC guidelines.
  • Order your free COVID tests through USPS. You can place one order per household, with each order providing four tests.
  • County data on the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 can be found here. You can find a chart of the trend in Covid by age group here.


Tim Drugan is the climate and environment reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering wildfires, water and other climate-related issues for Boulder 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. Email: