Is it really only Wednesday? 🐪 Get over the hump with BRL Today.

This morning’s top story from Melissa Bailey looks at how the remaining $28.5 million in disaster relief raised through the Boulder County Wildfire Fund will be spent. Thorny questions remain after Community Foundation Boulder County gave its first public glimpse at the spending plan on Monday, with some residents worried the focus on rebuilding could leave out the most vulnerable.

Also in today’s newsletter: Climate experts with the Rocky Mountain Institute offer advice on getting your home off natural gas. Plus the latest on the NCAR Fire, rising Covid numbers in Colorado, trail closures and a whole lot more.

See you Friday! 👋

– Jezy, managing editor

The Bear Canyon trailhead remains closed to the public after the NCAR Fire burned nearly 200 acres of open space surrounding the area on Saturday, March 26, 2022. Credit: Jezy J. Gray

Quickly

🌤 Sunnier and cool: Sunshine should return today, with cooler temps in the upper-40s and some morning flurries possible.

🔥 NCAR Fire updates: The fire is 90% contained and remains about 190 acres in size. Command has been transferred back to the City of Boulder as firefighting personnel transition to a “monitoring and recovery phase.” The cause of the blaze remains unknown and is under investigation.

🗓️ Fire relief deadline: March 31 is the last day to apply for Marshall Fire-related financial assistance from Boulder County. Check out the categories covered, and apply here. The county says funds will continue to be distributed through April 22.

😷 BA.2 in Colorado:  The state continues to have “very low” case rates, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said this week — indeed, Colorado is seeing some of the lowest levels since early fall 2020. But trend changes are often detected first, not in case rates, but in percent positivity. And that number is rising a bit, to about 3.3% statewide (7-day moving average). Is it a trend, or a blip? Too early to tell. Twenty-one percent of the specimens being sequenced in Colorado are subvariant BA.2 (though data lags), compared to now 55% nationally. The subvariant is in about half of all wastewater samples in the state.

⚖️ Post-fire debris lawsuit tossed out. A judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by ex-FEMA director Michael Brown’s company, Demanding Integrity in Public Spending, against Boulder County regarding the Marshall Fire recovery debris removal program. “There is no evidence that plaintiff will suffer any consequences as a result of defendants claimed violation of [the Colorado Open Meetings Law].”

How many people were affected by the Marshall Fire? “We don’t know yet. We don’t have a census of this community,” said Tatiana Hernandez, CEO of the Community Foundation Boulder County, during Monday night’s townhall on how the rest of the Boulder County Wildfire Fund will be spent. Other missing data: average household income of people affected, average time lived in their homes, and how many households plan to rebuild. This data is needed to help distribute the money equitably. The Community Foundation has now released its first survey for fire victims to fill out. Sensitive information, such as income, will be kept confidential, Hernandez said.

🥾 Trail updates: Areas affected by the NCAR Fire remain closed to the public. OSMP says the south side of Heil Valley Ranch is expected to open at the end of May — including the Corral Trailhead, Main Trailhead, Schoolhouse Loop, Overland Loop and the southern end of Wapiti Trail — with a new seasonal trail closure for nesting golden eagles on the lower single-track section of Wapiti.

Top Stories

What’s the plan for distributing the rest of the Marshall Fire fund? Community Foundation Boulder County releases first details

Ninety days after the Marshall Fire reduced more than 1,000 homes to ash and upended lives, the Community Foundation Boulder County on Monday detailed publicly for the first time how it plans to distribute the remaining $28.5 million in disaster relief raised through the Boulder County Wildfire Fund. 

The majority of the money — some $20 million — will directly help fire victims rebuild their homes in Boulder County, it said. 

“Number one, we want you back in your homes as quickly as humanly possible,” said Tatiana Hernandez, CEO of the Community Foundation Boulder County, which is administering the Boulder County Wildfire Fund. 

The fund has raised an “unprecedented” $38 million from more than 76,000 donors, Hernandez said. So far, it has allocated $8.1 million. That includes $5.5 million in direct payments to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed — including renters. Households of one or two people received $2,500 per household. Those with three or more people were given $5,000. Another $1.5 million went to workers who lost wages or livelihood equipment.

Fire survivors and others in the community have been clamoring for answers on what will happen with the rest. As Hernandez gave her presentation before the roughly 45 people who gathered at the Superior Business Center, 100 or so questions poured in from viewers watching the meeting online.

Reina Pomeroy, who joined the Marshall Together survivors group after losing her home in Louisville, spoke first, introducing Hernandez. “So many folks want to understand who the Community Foundation is, what they are doing on our behalf, and perhaps why we haven’t received more checks,” she said. She was skeptical about the foundation at first, she said, but praised the work it has done so far. The foundation “feels our urgency,” she said. 

Want to get off natural gas? Boulder climate experts offer advice on electrifying your home

For Chaz Teplin, retrofitting his house away from natural gas is an opportunity to bring his personal life in line with the values underpinning his work as an energy scientist. The 47-year-old Boulder resident is principal of the Carbon-Free Electricity program at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a sustainability research and consulting organization, where he focuses on decarbonizing the electricity sector. 

“The route to decarbonization is to electrify everything and clean up the grid,” Teplin says. 

To live up to the green values he espouses at work, Teplin has begun renovating his Boulder townhouse in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood to run entirely on electricity. He plans to swap out his air conditioner and gas-powered furnace for an electric-powered heat pump; his gas-powered hot water heater will be replaced with an electric model. Teplin is also installing a charging station for his electric car. 

But even with his climate background, Teplin says the electrification process has been challenging. Finding contractors with all-electric building know-how, securing rebates from various sources to offset part of the cost and paying the construction bills can all be stressful. In total, he expects the entire process to take a few months and cost over $30,000 after rebates. But Teplin says the cost is worth getting his home off natural gas. 

“In my day job, I work on cleaning up the grid. I feel it’s only right to complement this by electrifying,” he says. “Walk the talk, as they say.”

To help residents who want to follow his lead, Boulder Reporting Lab spoke with Teplin and his RMI colleague Brady Seals about the costs, challenges and rewards of moving away from natural gas in your own home.  

Become a BRL Community Leader sponsor! Email: sponsorships@boulderreportinglab.org

BRL Picks

🎭 Boulder Arts Week continues. Festivities continue during the annual citywide culture blowout, featuring live music, visual art exhibitions, screenings, workshops and more. Check out the full calendar to see what’s going on this week, and check out our round-up of some of the can’t-miss events.

🔥 Wildfire prep guide. The City of Boulder has a handy guide to help residents prepare their families, homes and property against the ever-present threat of wildfires. Contact Boulder Fire-Rescue for a free onsite home evaluation via email or by calling (303) 441-3368.

🍻 Beers by the creek. Boulder’s creekside craft beer bash returns with the 2022 Boulder Creek Beer Festival. Tickets are on sale now for the annual event featuring beers, seltzers and ciders from your favorite Colorado breweries, happening May 28–29.

🦋 Sounds of nature. The Butterfly Pavilion’s tropical conservatory gets a stunning soundtrack on April 22–23 with live performances from the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra. Join naturalist Dave Sutherland on a musical hike through Wings of the Tropics, designed to evoke feelings of awe and wonder.

COVID Updates: March 30, 2022

  • 74 daily new cases (7-day avg.) 🔺Up 24% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 0 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from avg. of 40 since July 2020.
  • 52% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 71% since July 2020.
  • FDA authorizes second booster dose. Older and immunocompromised people may get a second booster dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, per new FDA guidelines.

What We’re Reading

📖 Colorado startup star under fire. “[Aaron] Clark repeatedly has failed to pay his employees, contractors and vendors, according to interviews with 18 former workers, three outside clients and a Denver Post review of court records and internal company communications. The burgeoning entrepreneur, who last year won the Boulder Chamber of Commerce’s Startup of the Year award, launches nonprofits and startups with lofty missions, garnering well-known funders and positive publicity in major tech outlets.” [Denver Post]

📖 Climate change and the West Nile virus in Colorado. “The rise in cases may be a sign of what’s to come: As climate change brings more drought and pushes temperatures toward what is termed the ‘Goldilocks zone’ for mosquitoes — not too hot, not too cold — scientists expect West Nile transmission to increase across the country.” [CPR News]

ICYMI from BRL

🔥 ‘365 fire days a year’: NCAR wildfire is another wake-up call for weary Boulder residents adjusting to life in the new normal. Three months after the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes, the NCAR Fire burned nearly 200 acres of city open space near a residential area. Boulder Reporting Lab talked to those who stayed behind and those who fled to shelter, once again fearing for their homes and safety.

🚩 With another risky wildfire season ahead, here are 6 terms to understand — from ‘red flag warning’ to ‘100% containment.’ Wildfire seasons are getting longer and worse. Here are six essential terms to understand, both for preparing for fire season and gauging the risk when fires start.

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Jezy J. Gray

Jezy Gray was the former managing editor of Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, he was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more.