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When it comes to wildfires, a fuel refers to anything that can burn.

And in Boulder County, the hot summer with little precipitation left many fuels available as the CalWood and Lefthand Canyon fires ignited in mid-October.

The University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes and Communities and PLAN-Boulder County virtually discussed factors in the Calwood and Lefthand Canyon fires Monday evening. Local fire professionals talked about the weather conditions, fire suppression and preliminary observations and answered questions from the more than 200 community members that tuned in.

“To tell the story of (the CalWood fire) is to tell the story of a lot of fires in Colorado over the summer,” Chris O’Brien, interim Chief of Lefthand Fire Department said. O’Brien was one of the first officials on scene.

O’Brien and Boulder County Sheriff Fire Management Officer Seth McKinney discussed the lack of rain this summer as one of the fire’s driving factors.

“We pretty quickly went into historical fire danger, not only in the county but in the entire state,” McKinney said.

Senior Forestry Resource Specialist for Boulder County Parks and Open Space Stefan Reinhold said before the fire, his department treated more than 700 acres of land. The goal of treating the land is to remove ground fuels so the residency time of a fire doesn’t last as long, he explained. Reinhold shared a photo taken of one of the fire’s burn scars and highlighted the demarcation at the end of one of the treated areas. He pointed out how there were still needles on the trees of the land that had been previously treated, while only a few feet away on the edge of the untreated side the trees were completely burnt.

“We know treatments did change fire behavior,” he said. “To what extent we don’t know yet. Researchers will have to determine that.”

Following the discussion, the meeting had two breakout rooms: one for Boulder residents and one for unincorporated county residents. In the Boulder meeting, residents and experts discussed what would have happened if one of the two wildfires raged into the city. Officials said a fire in Boulder is not unprecedented, and outlined the city’s response plan.

“To not sugarcoat it, had that fire happened 17 miles south, it would’ve impacted Boulder fairly catastrophically,” Boulder Fire-Rescue Wildland Fire Division Chief Brian Oliver said.

Officials urged residents to do three things: sign up for the city and county’s emergency alert program at, create a defensible space around their home or property and create a family disaster plan.

“Mitigation is a community-wide effort. If all aren’t working together, (if you have a mitigation plan and your neighbors don’t,) your mitigation is for nothing,” Oliver said.

The Calwood Fire, which ignited Oct. 17, burned 10,106 acres while the Lefthand Canyon Fire, which ignited Oct. 18, burned 460 acres.

The causes of both remain under investigation.