Jan 10, 2022 - News

New questions emerge about Marshall Fire response

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden tour a Louisville neighborhood destroyed by the Marshall Fire alongside Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle on Friday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden tour a Louisville neighborhood destroyed by the Marshall Fire alongside Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle on Friday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The fire crews that responded to the first report of smoke from the Marshall Fire arrived within four minutes to a location south of Boulder.

Yes, but: They couldn't find the fire.

Why it matters: A preliminary review shows confusion and chaos crippled the response to the blaze.

  • The weather service never issued a "red flag" fire warning because the situation didn't meet the criteria.
  • Many people received little or no notice about the fire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

How it happened: The first fire crews focused their attention on what they believed was a downed power line that officials later said was a phone line that posed no threat.

  • "I don't see any smoke or flames at this point," a firefighter reported to Boulder County dispatchers, according to emergency dispatch tapes reported by CPR. "But we'll need Xcel here ASAP."

The timeline: 11 minutes later the crews saw the flames and started to extinguish the fire.

  • Just 3 minutes later they reported its quick spread and requested additional help.
  • It took 42 minutes for officials to send nearby residents a phone alert about the fire, and the notice only went to 215 people, the Colorado Sun reports.

What they're saying: Mountain View Fire and Rescue chief Dave Beebe said it's common for crews to have to search to find a fire. He told CPR the response time was "pretty good."

What's next: A report evaluating the response is forthcoming and may present new details and clues about how the Marshall Fire became the most destructive in Colorado history.

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. Subscribe here.

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