Outdoors

Never Seen Anything Like This: Fires Ravaging Boulder County

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials monitor the border of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials monitor the border of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Marshall and Middle Fork fires, which ignited in Boulder County today, December 30, have already burned 1,600 acres and destroyed over 600 homes. Likely caused by power lines downed by extreme wind gusts reaching to 100 miles per hour, the Marshall fire is consuming parts of Superior and Louisville, which have been ordered evacuated. Governor Jared Polis has declared a state of emergency because of the blaze and called in the National Guard.

At a press conference convened at 5 p.m., Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle called the fires "a horrific event," and said that the deputies and animal control officers working the fires say they’ve never seen anything like it. Pelle shared that 370 homes in the Sagamore Subdivision in Superior have been lost, 210 homes have potentially been lost in Old Town Superior, the Target shopping complex was on fire and the Element Hotel was fully engulfed.

The Louisville Police Department had to evacuate its headquarters. David Hayes, Louisville police chief, said the Louisville fire and police departments are currently operating out of the King Soopers parking lot at 1375 East South Boulder Road.

Polis, who lives in Boulder County and also spoke at the press conference, said that with the strong wind gusts, fire is moving the length of a football field in seconds. When told to evacuate, people will have "very little time to get out; very little time to even get the most important parts of your life,” Polis warned.

Just south of the evacuation area is Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which occupies much of the old Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, which created plutonium triggers for bombs. As a precaution, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees are at the border of the refuge with a fire truck. Although officials said they don't expect the fire to reach the refuge, winds of up to 115 mph were recorded at Rocky Flats, and it's in the pre-evacuation area that includes the Candelas development on its southern border.

Officials described the fires as a force of nature, and said there was little they could do to prevent the spread until the wind dies down. “This is the kind of fire you can’t fight,” Pelle noted.

Polis expressed gratitude for first responders and solidarity with those impacted by the fires. “For those who are directly affected, know that you don't stand alone,” he says. “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 a safe return. For those who've lost everything that they had, know that we will be there for you to help rebuild your lives.”

Anyone with questions about the status of their homes or evacuations can call a new community call center at 303-413-7730 rather than 911 to avoid tying up emergency lines. Information about the fire, evacuation areas and shelters can be found at the Boulder Office of Emergency Management website.
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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