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'A horrific event': 991 structures destroyed, three missing in Marshall Fire
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Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and millions of people evacuated from their homes.
Houses burn in Boulder County
Credit: Boulder PD

Search an address in the Marshall Fire burn map here.

SUPERIOR, Colo. — Grass fires fueled by high winds destroyed hundreds of homes in Boulder County December 30; thousands of Coloradans had to flee their homes.

According to Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, a total of 991 structures have been destroyed, 127 were damaged. 553 of those destroyed were in the town of Louisville, 45 damaged. 332 of those destroyed were in Superior, 60 were damaged. 106 structures that were damaged were in unincorporated Boulder County, 22 damaged. 

In a January 1 press conference, Pelle said there have been a total of five missing person reports over the course of this fire, two of those have been found safe. He said there are still currently three missing people and unfortunately these could turn into recovery cases, and the eight inches of snow on the destroyed homes is making it difficult to get out to search for these missing people. Authorities plan to bring in cadaver dogs on Sunday, January 2 to search the homes. 

Two of the missing people lived in Superior, the other one is from the Marshall area. Authorities haven't publicly identified them yet. 

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The Boulder County sheriff's department is pursuing multiple tips including serving a search warrant to a house. He did not elaborate on the nature of the warrant. Despite multiple reports of downed power lines, Pelle said they haven't found evidence of downed power lines yet, could have been downed communication lines which can't spark a fire. 

As of Friday morning, the fire had covered about 6,000 acres.

If you evacuated your home and have questions about the status of your property, call 303-413-7730.

Do not go back to evacuation zones

As difficult as it might be, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management is asking residents who evacuated to please avoid the evacuation zones. The post on their website said in part, "First responders are working non-stop to keep everyone safe, even as they don’t know the status of their own homes in the area." Emergency services are asking people to please be patient and we will get through this together. 

Family discovers home destroyed in Marshall Fire

Colleen and Greg Ehrnstrom visit their home which burned in the Marshall Fire

These are evacuation centers:

 

The first three sites listed are overnight shelters. If you are contagious with COVID-19 and need to evacuate, go to the COVID Recover Center at Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church (3485 Stanford Ct, Boulder, CO, 80305).

Below we have placed maps of the burn area and evacuation zones. In the burn area map, you can use the search bar in the top right to enter your address and find out if your home is inside the wildfire's perimeter (note: not every structure inside the burn area has been destroyed or damaged).

Marshall Fire Burn Area

Evacuation Zones

Boil order

Both Superior and Louisville residents should boil water prior to consumption until further notice.

How you can help 

We've put together this article which lists the ways people can help those affected by the fires. It also lists some other resources for those who are impacted and looking for help. 

Timeline of events

The fires started Thursday morning. The first fire was the Middle Fork Fire, but that fire did not destroy any homes.

The Marshall Fire has been much more vicious. It started around 11 a.m. near South Foothills Highway and Marshall Road. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, it had grown to 1,600 acres.

"This fire was consuming football field lengths of land in seconds," the sheriff said. "This was a horrific event."

In terms of property destroyed, the Marshall Fire is believed to be the most destructive fire in state history.

Pelle previously believed down power lines were the cause of the fire. But an update posted at 1 p.m. on December 31  said Xcel has inspected all of their lines within the ignition area and found no downed powerlines. They did find some compromised communication lines that may have been misidentified as powerlines. Typically, communications lines (telephone, cable, internet, etc.) would not be the cause of a fire.

The full investigation is still ongoing and we will share more updates as they become available.

Due to Thursday's extremely high winds, aerial firefighting was not an option.

Just before 1 p.m. Thursday, the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management announced an evacuation order for all of Superior. 

Around 2 p.m., an evacuation order was issued for the City of Louisville.

“In the case of evacuation head east or north,” the city's police department tweeted. “Do not evacuate to the south.”

Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency around 3:15 p.m.

"The declaration allows the state to access disaster emergency funds to support the emergency response efforts in Boulder and provide state resources including the use of the Colorado National Guard, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and activation of the State Emergency Operations Center," the governor's office said in a news release.

The harrowing grass fires—unusual for this time of year—were made worse by high winds. Some areas near Boulder County saw wind gusts up to 105 miles per hour Thursday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Boulder OEM is posting frequent updates on its website. You can follow along here.

Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville, which is operated by Centura Health, evacuated its NICU, ICU and emergency department patients because of the fire. The patients were transported to Longmont United Hospital and St. Anthony North Hospital.

If you have a loved one who is a patient at Avista Adventist Hospital, you can call 303-661-1848 for updates.

On Twitter, Polis said, "Prayers for thousands of families evacuating from the fires in Superior and Boulder County."

"Please keep the people of Boulder County and our firefighters in your prayers as we grapple with terrible and unprecedented fires in our community," U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Lafayette) tweeted.

The weather and climate surrounding these fires

Boulder County is a winter storm warning starting December 31 at 5 a.m. The NWS said the area could see up to 8 inches of snow. However, a majority of Boulder County is currently in "extreme drought," according to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Boulder has had just 1.6” of precipitation since August 1, 2021, according to 9News meteorologist Chris Bianchi. It was a historically hot and dry summer and fall in the area. That, mixed with 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts, led to prime wildfire conditions.

Decades of data show fire seasons are becoming longer and more frequent. A 2015 study from the U.S. Forest Service, for example, found that “parts of the western United States and Mexico, Brazil, and East Africa now face wildfire seasons that are more than a month longer than they were 35 years ago.” The researchers concluded that the main drivers for the extended fire seasons are linked to global warming and climate change.

In September of 2021, President Joe Biden paid a visit to Colorado to discuss the climate crisis.

“A drought or a fire doesn't see a property line. It doesn't give a damn which party you belong to,” Biden said during his remarks in Golden, Colorado. “Disasters aren't going to stop; that's the nature of the climate threat … But we know what we have to do, we just need to summon the courage and the creativity to do it."


This is a developing story and it will be updated.

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

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