3 believed dead in Marshall Fire, search warrant executed
991 homes said to be destroyed in Boulder County
Laurie Silver of Lafayette takes in what remains of her cousin’s condo in the aftermath of the Marshall Fire on Dec. 31, 2021, in Louisville. (Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Three people are missing in the Marshall Fire and believed to be dead, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Saturday, reversing accounts from the previous day suggesting that no human lives were lost.
Pelle, speaking during an afternoon press conference, also characterized the investigation into the fire’s cause in terms that were significantly different than prior statements. Officials previously said that blown-down power lines were believed to have ignited the flames. But on Saturday, Pelle said investigators had found no downed power lines near the fire’s origin, and law enforcement officials had undertaken “a very active investigation” that involves federal and state partners. He did not rule out arson or “reckless behavior.”
“We have a number of tips we’re working on,” Pelle said. “We’ve executed a search warrant at one particular location we’re investigating.”
One aspect of the Marshall Fire story, in which officials have estimated that up to 1,000 homes were destroyed, remained consistent Saturday. Here is the latest tally:
- 553 destroyed
- 45 damaged
- 332 destroyed
- 60 damaged
Unincorporated Boulder County (west of Superior)
- 106 destroyed
- 22 damaged
- 991 destroyed
- 127 damaged
Many businesses were also destroyed or damaged. Authorities released a preliminary list of destroyed and damaged structures Saturday afternoon.
The Marshall Fire, the most destructive in Colorado history, began late Thursday morning and, turbocharged by gusts of around 100 mph and dry grasses, raged across fields and devoured whole suburban neighborhoods. Video and photos from witnesses in the area showed harrowing scenes of burning structures. The fire covered about 6,000 acres. Given snow that fell Friday, it is no longer considered a danger, aside from possible re-ignition in already-burned structures.
Experts have pointed to climate change as a main factor in Thursday’s events.
“Extreme fires tend to be ‘climate-enabled and weather-driven‘; this was a classic case and one that is projected to become more frequent as the planet warms,” Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist for Colorado, wrote about the Marshall Fire in The Washington Post.
“The terrible firestorm was a result of a very warm, dry period combined with an extreme high wind event. There is a clear connection to CLIMATE CHANGE!” tweeted Denver meteorologist Mike Nelson.
Red flag day
When asked by a reporter whether a video that has circulated online of a shed burning near what’s believed to be the origin of the fire is part of the law enforcement investigation, Pelle said, “It is.”
9News on Friday reported on a video taken at 11:51 a.m. Thursday by witness Anjan Sapkota of a small structure engulfed in flames just south of Marshall Road near Colo. 93 and Colo. 170.
Pelle said investigators so far don’t have “any hard or credible evidence” about the cause of the fire. But, he said, “If it turns out to be arson or reckless behavior we’ll take appropriate actions. It was a red flag day, the day of the fire, so there shouldn’t have been any burning.”
Two of the missing people are from Superior. One is from the Marshall area.
“We unfortunately believe these are going to turn into recovery cases,” Pelle said, adding that debris from fire damage and the presence of heavy snow has so far precluded recovery in the homes of the missing people.
Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday declared a state of emergency, and FEMA approved a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant in response to the fire.
A fire call center can be reached at 303-413-7730.
The Boulder Office of Emergency Management is providing updates on evacuations and other fire information.
Ways to offer response assistance can be found at coloradoresponds.org.
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