Jan 3, 2022 - News

What we know — and don't — about the Marshall Fire

Laurie Silver takes in what remains of her cousin's Louisville condo in the aftermath of the Marshall Fire. Photo: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

The ashes of the Marshall Fire are revealing a new reality — but many questions remain.

What we know: Despite early reports that no one was missing in the fire, a man from Marshall and a woman from Superior are now reported as missing and presumed dead, emergency officials said Sunday. A third man who was initially unaccounted for was found "alive and well."

  • Nearly 1,000 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed. More than 100 others are damaged.
  • The flames are 74% contained and have torched at least 6,219 acres, Boulder County officials report.
  • About 100 FEMA personnel have been assigned to the disaster, and that number will continue to grow over the coming days and weeks, administrator Deanne Criswell said after a visit to the area.

What we don't know: The cause of the devastation remains unknown, but the FBI is now investigating.

  • Fire crews originally suspected that downed power lines had ignited the flames at Highway 93 and Marshall Road, but the wires turned out to be telecommunication lines — which experts say can't cause a fire.
  • Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said officials have now served a search warrant on a local property and are looking into a video shared online which appears to show a barn on fire in the area.
  • Gov. Jared Polis said that if there was any form of deliberate or accidental arson, he expects those involved to be held "fully responsible under the law for the utter devastation that was caused."

Between the lines: The wildfire mitigation plan spanning the area in which the Marshall Fire erupted has not been updated in more than a decade, the Denver Gazette reports.

  • Overseen by the Rocky Mountain Fire Protection District, it details local evacuation routes, which houses are in hazardous locations and places where proactive mitigation work should have happened.

What's next: As Coloradans salvage the remnants of their belongings, questions remain about where they will live — particularly at a time when affordable housing is running dry.

  • Polis said displaced residents may be allowed to live temporarily onsite in RVs and can also "resettle elsewhere," like surrounding suburbs, including Aurora, Denver and Thornton.
  • In the meantime, an assistance center is now open in Lafayette for those who need a hand filing insurance claims, filing for financial and food assistance, and finding mental health support and transportation, and more.

Of note: Boulder's sheriff told reporters Sunday that the county has reached capacity with donations of food and supplies thanks to the generosity of Coloradans.

The bottom line: "It's a long road ahead," Polis said. But "we've built back from other disasters, like the 2013 flood, and we will build back stronger from this one because we are Colorado strong."

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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