Good morning. Today marks the 52nd annual anniversary of Earth Day 🌱🌎, and you’ll find our newsletter filled with vital environmental news and information ⁠— wildfire and floods, solutions and obstacles.

It’s also our 5-month anniversary today 🎉. We’re more committed than ever to covering the local environment stories that define life in Boulder County. We’re hiring a dedicated local climate correspondent. We’re digging into local climate disaster and recovery philanthropy. We have trailblazing collaborative projects in the works. So thank you for reading, and for your support. It has made our first five months ⁠— and our vision for a truly local, nonprofit, independent, non-partisan, sustainable newsroom ⁠— even more promising and exciting.

– Stacy, publisher

As you’re strolling around downtown Boulder or by Boulder Creek, keep an eye out for some of this small-scale street art. The pieces are by the anonymous street artist SMiLE, who meticulously uses hand-cut stencils to add fine details to their art. Their Instagram page is @smileboulder. Credit: Harry Fuller/Boulder Reporting Lab

Quickly

🚩 Extremely critical fire conditions: Near-record warmth, very low humidity and sustained winds (gusts between 50 and 70 mph) will make for extremely dangerous fire conditions today. Red Flag Warnings are in effect from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.

😨 Rarity of such critical risk: Since 2010, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center has only placed the Denver metro area in “Extremely Critical Risk” one other time, and just a few times further south.

🚫 Sheriff enacts Level 1 fire restrictions: Find them here. “Anyone found in violation of the fire restrictions may be convicted of a civil infraction and may be subject to up to a $1,000 fine, in addition to any possible civil penalties. Higher fines may be imposed for subsequent offenses.”

👩‍🚒 Table Mountain Fire’s unusual cause: The grass fire that erupted near Table Mountain on Wednesday was caused by a drone operated by CU Boulder researchers conducting extreme weather studies. Per the Boulder County’s Sheriff Office: “While they were flying the fixed wing aircraft, it crashed at a high rate of speed into the ground causing a lithium ion battery cell to dislodge and ignite.” The blaze grew to 52 acres before it was contained. No charges will be filed.

⚠️🔥 Emergency alert confusion: 327 contacts in the Everbridge message system were sent evacuation alerts for the Table Mountain fire. Many outside the evacuation area received the Wireless Emergency Alert. Why? Via the sheriff’s office: “Although the actual area we identified for the evacuation area was small, the 911 center has no control over where the wireless emergency alerts are actually received. Once the message leaves our system, the cell phone carriers have the authority to increase or decrease the footprint, send or decline the message.”

*Note: If you haven’t already, sign up for Everbridge here.

🕵️ Case closed on NCAR fire. Investigators have determined that the origin of the March 26 NCAR fire was a few feet off the Bear Canyon trail and human-caused. The sheriff’s office has not been able to identify a suspect. “The investigation will be inactivated without any new substantial leads.”

👩🏽‍⚖️ County wants debris lawsuit dropped: Boulder County has filed a motion urging the court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Ceres Environmental Services, a losing bidder for the Marshall Fire debris removal program. The court previously dismissed a similar suit by Michael Brown, a former FEMA chief under George W. Bush.

🏃‍♀️ Run it back: ICYMI — Boulder’s own Nell Rojas is once again the fastest American at the Boston Marathon, finishing 10th place overall during Monday’s race with a personal record time of 2:25:57.

👟 BolderBoulder returns: The iconic 10k race, founded in 1979, is back from Covid hiatus, and registration is now open. Race day is Memorial Day, May 30, 2022.

Top Stories

Boulder fire chief on wildfire trends, prescribed burns and a firefighting capacity at its limit

For the last 15 years, the average number of red flag (fire weather) warning days per year was seven or eight. Today will be the 12th red flag warning day for Boulder in 2022 — in just four months.

“Is this the new normal? I don’t know. I don’t know what normal is anymore,” said Brian Oliver, Boulder Fire Rescue’s wildland chief. 

When humans lived in nomadic bands, fire was a tool utilized to clear dense gullies and overgrown forests. If these fires burned out of control, or started on their own, it’s easy to imagine people simply moving out of the way and adapting to the changing landscape. They didn’t have any other choice; they didn’t have fire retardant, or planes to drop it from.

Houses with foundations, however, are difficult to move. When fires approach our towns, we do everything we can to put it out. But with Colorado’s climate getting ever hotter and drier, Mother Nature might become insistent on reminding humans of their place in the pecking order—foundations and all.

“We can have all the science and all the resources in the world, [but] as we saw with the Marshall fire, Mother Nature wins, every time,” Oliver said. “Wildfire is a force of nature. An interesting analogy is: We don’t send troops or firefighters down to the Gulf when a hurricane is coming to stop or turn the hurricane. We get everybody out of the way.”

But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. Though adaptation will be necessary, mitigation efforts are still valuable and often effective.

For those in the fight over CU South, Redtail Ridge referendum victory offers lessons

Voters in the City of Louisville on Tuesday passed a referendum that effectively scrapped a proposed commercial development plan known as Redtail Ridge. 

While the developer plans to move ahead with a smaller development plan on the stretch of private property off Highway 36, opponents of the project celebrated the victory as a win in the fight to preserve mostly undeveloped land. They won 3,816 votes to 3,450, according to the unofficial results.

Just days later, community organizers seeking to block a proposed residential development in South Boulder, known as CU South, met to discuss their plans to pass a referendum on Nov. 8, 2022. The news of Redtail Ridge was wind in their sails. 

“We clapped and applauded,” said Peter Mayer, the co-chair of Repeal CU South Annexation and chair of PLAN-Boulder County, a local advocacy group backing the referendum. “These things take a long time. But it does show that citizens can actually have success and win if they really stick with it.”

BRL Picks

💃 Día del Niño: Celebrate Día del Niño (Children’s Day) with the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday, April 30, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., at the Boulder Central Park Bandshell. Enjoy free live music and dance performances by Flamenco Denver, Grupo Folklórico Sabor Latino, the Colorado Youth Mariachi Program, plus arts and crafts tables.

🍅 Food volunteers wanted: Every week, Boulder County Farmers Market, in partnership with Via Mobility, delivers more than 330 bags of food to families and childcare centers. They’re looking for volunteer deliverers on Mondays. Email foodaccess@bcfm.org for details: “You’ll receive a bag of locally grown produce as a token of our thanks!”

💬 Finding joy in mixed company: Tune in to a conversation (in-person or on Zoom) between Patty Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board for the Center of the American West at CU Boulder, and local author Jenny Shank, on Tuesday, April 26, at 6:00 p.m. The focus: “how Shank’s writing career harmonizes with the mission of the Center of the American West.” Shank’s book, “Mixed Company,” has been named a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards in the General Fiction category.

Covid-19 Updates: April 22, 2022

  • 108 daily new cases (7-day avg.) 🔺Up 42% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 0 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from avg. of 40 since July 2020.
  • 45% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 71% since July 2020.
  • Hospitalizations statewide tick up. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, there are now 88 people hospitalized (52% unvaccinated) with confirmed Covid statewide (as of April 20). That compares to 77 a week prior.

What We’re Reading

📖 Green groups sue Polis administration. Two environmental groups, WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit this week against the Polis administration “over its failure to ensure four major sources of air pollution…operate in compliance with state and federal clean air laws,” according to a release. “The suit targets four facilities: the Wattenberg methane gas processing plant located east of Denver, the Sinclair Denver Products oil terminal located in Henderson, the Phillips 66 Denver oil terminal located next to the Suncor oil refinery in Commerce City, and the East Regional Landfill located east of Denver near Bennett.” [WildEarth Guardians]

📖 Bill would create statewide office of climate preparedness. The measure “would set aside $20 million annually for loans and grants for homeowners, small businesses and local governments to cover the extra costs of hardening homes and building to stronger energy efficiency standards. Another $15 million would help neighborhoods build to resist natural disasters and cover financial gaps in insurance and federal assistance programs.” [Denver Axios]

📖 How rampant was fraud in Colorado’s Covid relief programs? “Exactly how much money was stolen in Colorado may never be known. A state audit report found that between March 2020 and April 2021, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) paid out more than $73 million in unemployment claims that were likely fraudulent. That report covers just the first year of the pandemic and only the unemployment program.” [Denver Post]

ICYMI from BRL

🏘️ The plan to redevelop industrial East Boulder includes housing. What kind, and how much, is still up for discussion. Members of the Boulder City Council want the plan to include more housing for middle-income residents. They are scheduled to vote on a final 20-year plan in early May.

🇲🇽 ‘It takes them home’: Latino history exhibition tells local stories of pride, pain and perseverance. Family narratives come to life in Voces Vivas: Stories from the Latino Community in Boulder, Past and Present, on display at the Museum of Boulder through February 2023. 

One Quick Favor to Ask…

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Thanks for reading!

Our journalism depends on you.
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Send us your ideas at tips@boulderreportinglab.org.

– The BRL Team

Stacy Feldman

I'm the founder and publisher of the Boulder Reporting Lab. I previously co-founded and was executive editor of Inside Climate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit newsroom covering the climate emergency. I was a 2020-21 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder, where I developed the concept for BRL.