BOULDER COUNTY – No casualties or fatalities have been reported so far in Boulder County as the Marshall Fire continued to burn Friday morning, the county sheriff said during a news conference on New Year’s Eve.
“That’s awesome news and given events we had yesterday, pretty miraculous,” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle as he provided an update on Colorado’s most destructive fire (in terms of homes destroyed) alongside Governor Jared Polis and other state officials.
Firefighters continued working overnight to attack the blaze which grew to 6,000 acres in size by Friday morning, but Pelle said the area was still too dangerous for neighbors to return to and called on residents to please avoid entering blocked off areas as there were still hot spots, downed power lines and trees at risk of falling – a risk that would increase with the much-anticipated arrival of snowfall into the burn area.
The forecast calls for three-to-six inches of snow for the Denver metro area with six to 12 inches in the foothills by early Saturday. The moisture is going to help with firefighting efforts, Pelle said.
There were approximately 2,000 homes in the burn area, Pelle said, but that does not mean 2,000 homes were lost to the fire.
“We know we lost approximately 500 homes around the west side of Superior. We saw dozens of homes burned out in between Superior and Eldorado Springs. We saw dozens of homes burned in the south part of Louisville,” said Pelle. “I would estimate it’s going to be at least 500 homes. I would not be surprised if it’s 1,000,” he said.
An assessment of the damage will continue Friday and officials won’t have final numbers on structures lost or burned until Friday night or New Year’s Day.
Pelle acknowledged residents of the areas affected by the wildfire want to return to their neighborhoods to see the damage left behind to their properties, but he cautioned against it and asked for patience from the community.
“It’s still too dangerous,” Pelle said, adding that as soon it’s safe for residents to return, the sheriff’s office will let them back in.
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A boil water advisory was issued for the Town of Superior Friday, in addition to Thursday night’s advisory for the City of Louisville due to loss of water pressure in both communities, which could lead to contaminated water that will need to be boiled in those areas, Pelle said. Residents are asked to use bottled water or boil any water to be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice.
Pelle also cautioned against driving to the affected area and urged travelers wanting to help to stay away for the time being. He said the trailheads east of Highway 93 and McCaslin to the south are closed due to power line issues which are still affecting those communities.
Anyone wishing to volunteer to help families affected by the Marshall Fire can do so by signing up at ColoradoResponds.org. There are other ways to help, such as making donations to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management and other nonprofits stepping up in the wake of the tragedy. Residents in Boulder County who want to get the latest updates on the Marshall Fire can call the Boulder County Emergency Call Center at (303) 413-7730.
“The past 24 hours have been devastating,” Gov. Polis said during the news briefing. “It’s really unimaginable. It’s hard to speak about.”
The governor said he spoke with President Joe Biden moments before the briefing, who offered his support for the people of Colorado. During the call, Polis said, Biden approved the expedited major disaster declaration issued by the governor Thursday night.
The declaration is expected to be finalized in the coming hours, meaning people who lost their homes or small businesses won’t have to wait for damage assessment because of the actions the president took, Polis added.
“This hit close to home for so many of us,” he said. “The Costco we all shop at. The Target we buy our kids clothes at. All damaged,” Polis said as he put into context how impactful the fire is going to be in the community.
“We talk about houses destroyed, but each house is not just a house, it’s a home. It’s a sanctuary of comfort for those who live there. It’s a reservoir of memories, where families were raised,” Polis said.
The governor said Thursday’s blaze is something he and the rest of state is still struggling to believe and understand.
“This is our community and to watch it burn so quickly, so unexpectedly, is something that I think we’re all just struggling to believe and understand,” he said. “This played out with 105 mph winds over the course of half a day.”
Polis said the state is going to work with families and small businesses to rebuild and added he spoke with FEMA to address short-term housing needs for the thousands of families affected by the fire. He said it would be a New Year’s miracle if there is no loss of life from the wildfire.
While the origin of the fire has not yet been determined, fire officials believe downed power lines are to blame. Officials will be on the ground Friday investigating anything they find, Pelle said.
Absent any major changes in the weather there’s very limited potential for more negative impact from the blaze, Polis said. “At this point, as long as weather holds up here, there’s not going to be substantial additional damage.”
When asked about what the strategy was for fighting the blaze, Boulder County Incident Commander Michael Smith said the strategy at the beginning was “safety.”
“The way the winds were (Thursday), the fire was moving as the same speed as the wind,” Smith said, which contributed to its explosive spread that saw football field lengths of land be consumed in a matter of seconds.
Polis said the rapidly spreading fire was aided by gusts of up to 105 mph that was “leapfrogging” over highways, roads and across neighborhoods.
He said the dry fuel, little precipitation, little snow, couple with those high wind gusts, “led to a combination of something more destructive than I’ve seen.”
Officials said they were working hard to restore power to affected areas, but they were not sure when that would completely resolve, though they acknowledged power restoration was “a major priority.”
US 36 was still closed as damage assessment was still ongoing and officials were looking hard at how to get those roads opened but fell short of estimating a time for the reopening of the roadway.
The governor said about 200 people were currently at emergency and evacuation shelters.
Once damage assessment is complete by fire officials who are going address by address, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office will post a list of homes that were lost to the blaze, but that “wont’ happen for a while,” Pelle said.
Only a portion of the homes in the burn area were affected by the fire, which remains at 0% containment Friday morning, he added.
“We may not have homes tomorrow but have each other," Polis said, reading a text from a friend who lives in the affected area. "l’ll miss the treasures we’ve collected ... While not replaceable, we have people."