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Marshall Fire burns hundreds of homes, forces thousands to evacuate in Boulder County

 Smoke rises from Superior, Colorado, the morning of Friday, Dec. 31, 2021 as seen from Hwy 128 in Broomfield.
Broomfield Police Department
Smoke rises from Superior, Colorado, the morning of Friday, Dec. 31, 2021 as seen from Hwy 128 in Broomfield.

Evacuation and reunification centers

  • YMCA of Northern Colorado, 2800 Dagny Way, Lafayette, CO 80026
  • Rocky Mountain Christian Church, 9447 Niwot Rd, Longmont, CO 80503
  • Longmont Senior Center, 910 Longs Peak Ave, Longmont, CO 80501 (no overnight shelter)
  • COVID-19 positive (adults only): Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, 3485 Stanford Ct, Boulder, CO 80305
  • Large animals: Jefferson County Fairgrounds, 15200 W 6th Ave Frontage Road, Golden, CO 80401

Road closures

A current list of road closures can be found on the Boulder Office of Emergency Management website.

Update at 11:12 a.m.

Officials say it is still too dangerous for residents to return to the area and check on their homes.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said it would take at least a day for his office to begin posting addresses of homes that were lost or damaged.

“It’s going to take some time,” he said.

But he did share some good news. Snow is falling on the burn area, and officials do not expect the blaze to grow beyond the current estimate of 6,200 acres.

"Absent any major changes in the weather, there's very limited potential for additional negative impact,” Gov. Jared Polis said. "There are still some smoldering flames, but at this point, as long as the weather holds up here, there's not going to be substantial additional damage from this fire."

Pelle said there are no reports of deaths or missing persons as a result of the fire.

“It's unbelievable when you look at the devastation that we don't have a list of 100 missing persons,” Pelle said. “But we don't. And so again, I am hoping

that's a miracle because it would be given the circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Polis said he spoke to President Joe Biden Friday morning about the disaster and resources will soon arrive from the federal government.

“He offered his support for the people of Colorado,” Polis said. “The president approved the expedited major disaster declaration and that'll be finalized ... in the next couple of hours. What that means is it allows those who suffered loss, small businesses and homeowners, they won't have to wait for the preliminary damage assessment for housing and small business assistance.”

Update at 10:30 a.m.

Tens of thousands of Coloradans are still under mandatory evacuation orders this morning due to grass fires that quickly spread through communities in Boulder County yesterday.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle says officials believe both the Marshall Fire and the Middle Fork Fire started from downed power lines.

"So preliminarily the reports were downed power lines. And we had deputies in the area confirm there were downed power lines. So we believe that's what caused the fire," Pelle said.

The Marshall Fire, fueled by strong winds, is now over 6,000 acres. At least 580 homes have been lost, according to initial estimates Thursday. That will likely make the fire the most destructive in state history in terms of homes destroyed.

Minutes after stepping off a helicopter that gave him an aerial view of the Marshall Fire devastation on Friday morning, Pelle described a grim scene.

“We did see entire subdivisions ... that are totally gone,” Pelle said. “We won't have final numbers until late tonight or tomorrow, but we are fully expecting

this to be 500 or more homes that were lost.”

In a Friday morning briefing, Pelle said damage assessment is still ongoing, but he would not be surprised if the number of homes lost reaches 1,000.

Speaking on the damage Thursday night, Gov. Polis said, "For those who are directly affected, know that you don't stand alone, the people of Colorado stand with you. For those who don't know if they have a home to return to, our prayers are with you for your safe return."

Update at 10:00 a.m.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management is holding an informational briefing on the fires. Watch it here:

Update at 7:50 a.m.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, along with city leaders, have issued a boil water advisory in Louisville due to the fires. The city changed their water distribution operations so that more water is available to fight the fires. That means they switched to untreated water. As soon as the fires are controlled, and people can safely return, CDPHE will coordinate with the city to flush and test the water to make sure it's safe to drink again.

Late Thursday night, all mandatory evacuation and pre-evacuation orders were lifted in Broomfield.

Update at 6:45 p.m.

The Broomfield Police department has expanded the mandatory evacuation order to include the area west of Simms St to Indiana St and South of Hwy 128.


Update at 5:26 p.m.

Broomfield police have announced a mandatory evacuation order for the Interlocken area. The evacuation zone stretches south of U.S. Hwy 36 to 112th Avenue and west of Wadsworth Pkwy. Police say people in the area are in danger and should call 911 if they need help evacuating.

Meanwhile, the Skystone neighborhood in Broomfield is now on pre-evacuation orders. Police say residents should gather essentials like prescriptions, medical supplies, pet supplies, important papers, and alert neighbors.

No fatalities have yet been reported as a result of the 1,600-acre Marshall Fire, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle announced during a 5 p.m. press conference.

Only one injury has been reported, an officer whose eye was hit with debris.

“However, I’d like to emphasize due to the magnitude of this fire, the intensity of this fire and its presence in such a heavily populated area,” Pelle said, “we would not be surprised if there are injuries or fatalities.”

Initial estimates suggest around 600 homes have been burned in Superior, Pelle said. About 370 are in the Sagamore subdivision. 210 were likely lost in Old Town. A hotel and Target shopping center were also listed among the structures caught in the flames.

“Individuals should not attempt to return to their neighborhoods until they receive official word it is safe to do so,” Pelle said. “This may or may not be for several hours.”

The fire is not likely to move into communities that are not already on the evacuation map, like Boulder and Longmont.

“So if you're not on that evacuation map,” Pelle said, “I do believe you're probably safe, but you need to be alert and aware. Stay tuned.”

If anyone is in doubt about their safety, he added, they can call the emergency hotline at 303-413-7730 or visit boulderoem.com for updates.

The two fires started late Thursday morning, Pelle said. The Middle Fork Fire was reported first and was pretty quickly “laid down” by fire crews and is currently being monitored. No structures were reported lost as a result of that fire.

The Marshall Fire started about 30 minutes later and has been responsible for most of the destruction and evacuations since. The cause of the fire is suspected to be a downed power line.

“I want to assure you that our fire personnel are working as hard as they can to save additional structures as we speak,” Pelle said. “And when it is safe to do so, we’ll start the emotional and painful process of assessing damages.”

Louisville Police Chief Dave Hayes highlighted the “many stories of the people of Louisville coming together to support and care for one another.”

“I ask that in the months ahead, you continue to find ways to assist each other in healing from what has happened today,” Hayes said.

The Louisville Police and Fire Departments are operating a command post in a King Soopers parking lot after evacuating their headquarters due to unsafe conditions in the surrounding area. Officers will continue patrolling the city overnight to prevent “looting or other related activities,” Hayes said.

Gov. Jared Polis compared the Marshall Fire to the record-breaking fires of 2020, which were larger but primarily only destroyed Bureau of Land Management buildings.

“So 1,600 acres near a population center can be and is, in this case, absolutely devastating,” Polis said.

He also noted that financial assistance will be coming to affected communities through federal emergency funds.

“But there's no way to quantify in any financial way the price of a loss of losing the chair that was handed down to you from your grandmother, or losing your childhood yearbooks, of losing your photos, of losing your computer files, which hundreds of Colorado families have experienced today with no warning,” the governor said.

The National Guard have been called in to assist a coalition of local emergency responders from the area. Twelve two-person units are expected to arrive overnight. Wind conditions prevented the use of aircraft to battle the blaze.

“Some of the first responders themselves live in areas that are under evacuation orders as we speak,” Polis said. “So without knowing the status of their own home, they are still on the front line, working all night as they to help with evacuations and containing the fire.”

Update at 4:50 p.m.

All patients are being evacuated from Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville. People can inquire about their loved ones by calling 303-661-1848.

There have been reports of multiple residential structures being engulfed in flames. 9News’ Kyle Clark reports the fire is moving “from one home to the next” from McCaslin and Washington in Louisville. Images of an apartment complex burning were capturedby CBS Denver from at the intersection of McCaslin and Rock Creek Pkwy. AndDenver7 shared images of a large house ablaze in south Boulder.

One video captured by a bystander outside a Superior Costco store showed winds whipping through barren trees in the parking lot surrounded by gray skies, a hazy sun and small fires scattered across the ground.

Six people who were injured in the fires were being treated at UCHealth Broomfield Hospital, spokesperson Kelli Christensen said.

The Front Range has experienced an extremely dry and mild fall, and winter so far has continued to be mostly dry. A historic drought and heat waves have made wildfires harder to fight in the West. Snow is expected Friday in the region.

The Associated Press contributed to this update.

Update at 4:25 p.m.

All areas of Louisville, except Old Town and north of South Boulder Road, are under mandatory evacuation orders. Residents are advised to evacuate north or east via Highway 42 or 287.

Lafayette residents West of Hwy 287 between Arapahoe and Dillon are being asked to “consider leaving immediately to be prepared if conditions worsen.”

A public information call center is now open. Residents can get information on the Marshall and Middle Fork Fires by calling 303-413-7730.

The National Weather Service in Boulder forecasts winds will die down slowly throughout the evening. Though 70-85 mile per hour gusts remain at the base of the foothills, they are not nearly as strong to the east.

Update at 3:30 p.m.

Gov. Jared Polis has declared a state of emergency due to the grass fires across the Front Range. The declaration will allow the state to support emergency response through the use of the National Guard and activation of the State Emergency Operations Center.

Pre-evacuation warnings have been issued for an area north of Lafayette between West South Boulder Road, Cherryville Road, Baseline Road and N 96th Street.

Officials say they arebeing overwhelmed with calls and are asking people not to call to offer donations; to report power outages or downed power lines (unless the wires are arching, sparking or on fire); downed trees or the flipped semi-truck on the side of Foothills Parkway.

Broomfield Police Department

Update at 3:03 p.m.

A pre-evacuation warning is now in place for a portion of Broomfield.

Residents at the Caliber at Flatirons apartments, Retreat at the Flatirons apartments, Terracina of Broomfield apartments, Vantage Point apartments, Holiday Inn Express, and the Hyatt House in Broomfield are being asked to prepare by gathering essentials like prescriptions, medical supplies, pet supplies and important papers.

More updates to come fromBroomfield Police Twitter.

Update at 2:39 p.m.

Boulder County emergency officials have ordered a mandatory evacuation for the city of Louisville. Residents are advised to evacuate east, not south. The city of 21,000 people is being threatened by the three fast-moving fires.

Evacuation centers have been opened in Lafayette at the 2800 Dagny Way YMCA and the South Boulder Recreation Center at 1360 Gillaspie Drive.

U.S. 36 is closed between Colorado Ave and the Boulder/Denver Turnpike as well as from Altoona to 66. Hwy 93 is closed between Table Mesa South and Marshall.

More updates will come from the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management and Louisville Police Department Twitter feeds.

The original story continues below.

High winds are fanning multiple grass fires north and south of Boulder Thursday afternoon.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management is responding to the Middle Fork Fire near Altona and the Marshall Fire near Superior. The size of the fires is not known, but structures are threatened, and the entire town of Superior is under a mandatory evacuation order.

The South Boulder Recreation Center, Longmont Senior Center and the Lafayette YMCA are open for residents.

Multiple road closures are in effect, including U.S. 36, state Highway 93 and County Road 170.

An official cause has not been determined, but high winds blew down power lines earlier Thursday, according to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. Winds are 60 to 70 mph and higher in the area.

We will continue to update this story as it develops.

Copyright 2021 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Stories written by KUNC newsroom staff.
Adam Rayes
Beau grew up listening to public radio on the Palouse. He is a former host, reporter, producer and engineer for Montana Public Radio in Missoula. As a reporter, he is interested in stories that address issues and perspectives unique to living in the West.
Maxine Speier
Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.