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One year later: stories of the Marshall Fire
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Friday, Dec. 30 marks one year since the most destructive wildfire in Colorado's history. In the afternoon of Dec. 30, 2021, a grass fire sparked in Boulder County that is still under investigation. Fueled by hurricane-strength winds, this fire went from a grass fire to a dangerous suburban wildfire in just a matter of hours. Forcing sudden evacuations, the Marshall Fire killed two people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Louisville, Superior and unincorporated Boulder County.

“As we look back on the one-year since the horrific Marshall Fire, we remember a painful day of destruction and loss for our community. It has been a long and hard recovery, and there is still more left to do, but each day I hope we get closer and closer to rebuilding some of what was lost," said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in a statement released this week

Following the weeks and months after the fire, the families who lost their homes looked for resources, support and a way to move forward. Lawmakers from city councilors to Colorado legislators to President Joe Biden visited Boulder County in the last year, offering support and promises to learn from this destructive lesson from mother nature. 

In the past year, the Colorado legislature passed several bills to expand natural disaster mitigation and preparedness. Recently published CU Boulder research also found more than 1,000 pets died in the Marshall Fire, most trapped inside their homes. This research contributes to the message to all Coloradans to have a disaster plan in place as climate change puts the state in increasing risk for more wildfires. 

As we look back one year after the tragedy, we're sharing some of the voices of those impacted by the fire. 

'111 years of history lost.'  The historic home in Superior that burned to the ground

The house at 101 Coal Creek Drive had a history almost as long as Superior itself. It was constructed during the same time the Titanic was being built and stood tall and proud for the next 111 years. 

Sadly, the house and the physical reminders of its history were consumed by the Marshall Fire. Robin, the home’s property manager, showed Rocky Mountain PBS the remnants of the home and spoke of the impact she felt when she realized it was gone. 

[Read the full story]

110 Years of History Lost

The Marshall Fire swept through Old Town Superior Colorado burning an old home to the ground.

The story behind the haunting image taken from a hospital window

They say a picture says 1,000 words, and this one was no exception. Weny Cardona, operating nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital, managed to take a photo that has imprinted in our minds ever since. In the photo, nurses look on helplessly from the hospital window as the Marshall Fire blazes in the distance. 

Cardona gave Rocky Mountain PBS a behind the scenes look and shared what was going through her mind as she tried to focus on saving lives while knowing her town was burning nearby.

[Read the full story]

Nurse's photo shows the horror of the Marshall Fire

The picture efficiently captures the dual tragedies Colorado is experiencing.

Pet saved from the fire, knowing many were lost

Tracy Granucci and her husband Jason had just landed in Cabo San Lucas to enjoy a vacation with family on Dec. 30, 2021. Back at their home in Superior, they had arranged for a cat sitter to come every day to look after their 16-year-old cat, Peanut. Then the Marshall Fire sparked, prompting evacuations and road blockages not allowing family or the cat sitter to get to the home and Peanut.

Through nothing short of a miracle, their cat was saved despite the flames burning the homes next door to theirs. 

[Read the full story]
 

Peanut the cat is rescued

Meet Peanut the cat, rescued from the Marshall Fire.

How to prepare for a fire

It’s important to learn from tragedies like the Marshall Fire so we can better prepare for the future. 

Like many other Colorado fires, the Marshall Fire was a deadly combination of flames, extremely high winds and dry landscapes. 

Here’s what to do if you live in an area prone to these conditions from the valuable perspectives of climate experts. 

[Read the full story]

Climate expert discusses Colorado's high winds

A NWS meteorologist on high winds and the Marshall Fire

Healing through helping

Lance Ferguson knows the impact of a fire all too well. In 2020, he and his family lost everything, including their pet, to flames. 

Despite being out on the Western Slope, once Ferguson heard about the Marshall Fire he leapt into action to help ease the pain for others a process he said helped him heal from his own tragedy.

[Read the full story]

Grand Junction business owner collects donations for fire victims

A Colorado business opened its doors to those who wanted to help Marshall Fire victims.

Undocumented and mixed-status families faced various barriers to accessing essential resources

During a crisis, it can be tough to get the resources needed in a timely manner. And for undocumented residents, there is a risk of not receiving aid at all.

Advocates like Rocio Nuñez worked tirelessly to help families navigate how to get urgent necessities like housing and food met after losing everything they had.

[Read the full story]

For undocumented families who lost everything in the Marshall Fire, assistance is often harder to access. 
Sister Carmen Community Center

The impact of climate change

Besides high winds and dry conditions, what caused the Marshall Fire to be so damaging? And why did it occur outside of Colorado’s typical ‘wildfire season’? 

Fire expert and director of Earth Lab Jennifer Balch explained the often overlooked factors that led up to the burn, such as population rates and climate change.

[Read the full story]

The Marshall Fire and Climate Change

A fire expert's take on the Marshall Fire

Rebuilding after the fire looks different for everyone

Six months after the fire, victims were finally able to take a breathe and begin planning for the future. 

In this award-winning episode of Colorado Voices, Rocky Mountain PBS followed some of the families impacted by the Marshall Fire on their journey to rebuilding their homes to be more energy-efficient and fire resistant. 

[Read the full story]

Building Back Better after Marshall Fire

Marshall Fire victims are rebuilding more efficient and fire resistant homes.

The 'equity map'  created to help ensure more families receive the support they need

Colorado’s response to climate change disasters can leave some people overlooked. 

While the Marshall fire destroyed many homes that became the focus of support services, others who were impacted by the wind event were left by the wayside. 

Mobile homes lost vital parts, power outages devastated families, and unaddressed language barriers prevented many from receiving necessities. 

In order to address this, Resilient Analytics created an ‘equity map’ to better ensure everyone who needs services receive them.

[Read the full story]

Boulder County uses an "equity map" to respond to disasters

Boulder County is using an equity map to respond to the Marshall Fire

A growing interest in Passive Homes

Sometimes, tragedy leads to innovation.

 Seth Riseman lost his home to the Marshall Fire and decided to look into homes with more energy efficiency and fire resistance. His search led him to a tour of Colorado’s first multi-family Passive Home.

[Read the full story]

Marshall fire victims tour passive house

Marshall Fire victims toured a multi-family passive house in Englewood.

A fresh start abroad

For some families, the painful memories of the Marshall Fire were too much for them to stay. The Payne family decided to rebuild a house but not one they will call home.

Instead, they plan to rent out the property and start fresh in a new country. 

[Read the full story]

Marshall Fire victims plan to move abroad

One year after the Marshall Fire, a family of five takes control of their future.

 


Elle Naef is a digital media producer at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at ellenaef@rmpbs.org.

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