Marshall Fire destroys more than 1,000 homes

Extreme winds hampered firefighting efforts.

Ten miles west-northwest of my home in Thornton, Colo., more than 500 homes burned today … and the fire continues virtually unabated. Winds reaching 115 mph this morning downed power lines and started a grass fire — the Marshall Fire — that spread rapidly eastward. By noon the towns of Superior and Louisville had been evacuated.

I’ve had the tv on all day and not until an hour or two after sunset did the winds begin to relent. Until then there was little firefighters could do against gusty 70-100 mph winds. One reporter said water from fire hoses was blown back into the faces of the firefighters. And of course, all air support was grounded.

Dense suburbs laced with bone-dry greenbelts were virtually indefensible. (Photo: Trevor Hughes)

Recent reports (7 pm local) say more than 600 homes have burned, making this the most destructive fire in the state’s history. So far no fatalities have been reported, but the fire is still raging. I felt like a voyeur watching homes burn this afternoon. It was heartbreaking. But the worst moments came at sunset when the light faded and Christmas lights became visible on burning homes.

The situation got personal when the fire threatened the hospital where my primary care doctor is based and where my two grandchildren were born. Smoke was getting into the ventilation system and evacuation was ordered. My daughter-in-law, an EMT, aided in the evacuation.

The ultimate irony: while homes continue to burn, we’re under a winter storm watch, with as much as 6 inches of snow to begin falling by morning. Nature has a cruel sense of timing.

The smoke plume was obvious on radar.

December 31: Reports this morning say some 6,400 acres burned. Gov. Polis, at 10 am, said up to 1,000 homes might have been destroyed, so obviously an accurate count is yet to come. Snow has begun falling over parts of the burned area.

Inciweb map of burned area
(Hart Van Denburg/Colorado Public Radio via AP, Pool)

Finally, at 2 pm, snow has begun falling here at my home.

9 pm: Xcel Energy has investigated and reported that there were NO downed power lines in the area where the fire started. Authorities now report there are two missing persons.

January 1, 2022: Three missing and feared dead, 991 structures destroyed in Marshall fire, Boulder sheriff says. Based on several tips, deputies obtained a search warrant for the property where a small shed was seen burning near the firestorm’s source. I’ve begun thinking the fire was the result of careless, criminally negligent burning, perhaps of trash, on a Red Flag Day, when no burning of any kind is allowed.

From video showing the possible source of the Marshall Fire.

January 2, 2022: One of the three missing persons has been accounted for. And, believe it or not, Friday morning, a Louisville man confronted firefighters with an AR-15. He then drove away but was arrested nearby and charged with menacing with a weapon (a felony), obstructing government operations, obstructing a peace officer/firefighter, eluding, and third-degree criminal trespass.

I missed this story earlier today because of the Denver Post paywall, but was able to read it on my phone:

January 6, 2022: Updated numbers. 1,084 homes and 7 businesses were destroyed. Exact cause is still being investigated. One person still missing.

17 thoughts on “Marshall Fire destroys more than 1,000 homes

  1. Absolutely heartbreaking news. I’ve reached out to friends in the Front Range area, but haven’t had any reply – not surprising given the scope of the fires. Hoping you and your friends and loved ones remain safe from the firestorm and snowstorm and that the extreme winds abate quickly. What an ending to a challenging year.

    1. I’m used to hearing about forest fires and have often thought I was lucky not to be able to afford a mountain home with all the attendant fire danger. Then this happens. But we’re in a severe drought (only 1.07 inches of precipitation since July 1) and we do get very high winds off the mountains so maybe it was only a matter of time.

      All my family and acquaintances live here in Thornton so we’re okay.

  2. I have a friend who lives in that area and she’s been posting about what it’s like. this sounds so horrible and now with a snowstorm coming…. please be safe

  3. Hmm. I recall reading that property insurance rates do not realistically reflect the risk of natural disasters like fires, hurricanes, flooding and tornadoes. This encourages rebuilding in a way that makes repetitions more likely. I wonder if that’s still true?

    1. I don’t know. I know fires like this raise everyone’s rates. Builders here are well aware of how to build more fire-resistant homes, but given their profit incentive, I imagine homeowners would have to insist on such construction to get it done, and I’d guess that happens mostly in the mountains — where fire insurance, if available at all, is sky high and fire protection is often minimal or non-existent. Mountain homeowners are aware of fire mitigation steps they can take — such as clearing their perimeter of trees and shrubs — but in a suburban neighborhood, who thinks to do that? Who imagines a fire like this? If insurance rates and building costs reflected everything that might or could happen, no one could afford a home.

    2. Having priced living/homes on/in the Front Range in the past/recent couple of years, there seems to be some awareness of risk and cost with pricing insurance. Some companies will not insure Mountain homes. Most require inspections, specific mitigation of fire risk with and around house, and specific home construction materials. But as one fire expert said today, “You can’t really fireproof a home.” Especially with ember storm fire and in drought.
      But like you we note the encroachment of homes into forests – We know pine trees go up fast and explode sending embers everywhere ( although this was a grass fire not a forest fire) and there’s a concern of how terribly close together the new homes are being built in the new subdivisions.
      Where are all these people going go go? Housing was already tight, both rentals and owned, and terribly expensive – and has only gone up with pandemic.
      Terrible situation and scary. Glad the winds are less, but still horrible and dangerous

  4. So glad to see your post. Was pretty sure you were safe, but
    We get prairie /grass fires, but they are generally controlled planed burns – and not with 50-100 mph winds.
    One of the clinics my kid works at has been burned – she is hosting aa couple of employees’ families who lost everything. Traumatizing kids – house, even Christmas presents all gone. Pretty much of aa shock to even those not in the midst of it
    Not aa good Mother Nature if this was a done as a team building exercise for humans…or we’ll see.
    Cold difficult winter now worse.
    Stay safe! (and warm….any utility issues because of this?)

    1. The media are full of this news but I figured I’d better report in to my readers. You know this area, so you know I’m not in any danger. Yes, lots of utility issues in the fire area. Water shortage, pollution, or unavailable, with a boil water order in effect. Power lines down everywhere. I imagine/hope gas and power has been shut off. All of that in the burn area, not here in Thornton.

    1. Thanks, Janis. It’s been really painful to watch. Some of the reporters on scene were obviously and understandably having a difficult time, but they hung in there because the rest of us needed to know. I’m just sitting here, safe and warm, wishing the snow would begin.

      1. Word this evening that reporters have come in from elsewhere to help locals cover the fire. First time I’ve ever heard of that happening. Kudos to them. It was all hands on deck yesterday and local reporters were exhausted, physically and emotionally, by late evening.

... and that's my two cents