Is Colorado’s Front Range prepared for the next Marshall fire? (2022)

When the Marshall fire burned through a record number of homes and businesses in Boulder County last week, Richard Skorman’s mind jumped to the Ivywild and Broadmoor neighborhoods and the rest of southwest Colorado Springs.

The recently retired City Council president calls the southwest side home and, alongside many others, considers the massive swathe of land at risk for another devastating wildfire.

Should a blaze spark on the southwest side during a high-wind day, there are only a few two-lane roads leading in and out of the neighborhoods there, Skorman noted.

“All bets are off,” he said.

Skorman, fire mitigation experts and emergency management officials said the Marshall fire, which sparked Dec. 30, serves as a stark reminder that not only are Colorado’s foothill- and mountain-adjacent communities at risk for wildfires but so too are its more urban neighborhoods. And many communities across the state are unprepared or underprepared.

More than 20% of the state’s counties with at least a fifth of their populations living in the wildland-urbaninterface (WUI for short) have no wildfire policies in their major planning documents, according to a 2021 analysis from the Littleton-based Community Wildfire Planning Center. Another 14% of those counties have only limited policies.

Less than a third of those counties “meaningfully incorporated” wildfire policies into their broad plans, the analysis continues. But even then, many of those plans – which often detail evacuation routes, ways to combat fires and outline recovery efforts – are over a decade old.

(Video) Colorado nurse captures haunting photo of the Marshall Fire

The wildfire mitigation plan for the area engulfed in the Marshall fire hadn’t been updated since 2010.

How prepared a Front Range community is for a wildfire depends on where it is, Molly Mowery, executive director of CWPC, said. And that leaves many people, homes and businesses needlessly exposed. Often, communities with the most up-to-date plans are those who have already suffered from wildfires rather than those who have yet to experience the devastation firsthand.

The Marshall fire is a tragedy, Mowery said.

“But if we don’t learn from it, it’ll be a double tragedy,” she said.

Is Colorado’s Front Range prepared for the next Marshall fire? (1)

Where is Colorado’s wildfire risk now?

Skorman estimated Colorado Springs has perhaps 50,000 addresses housing some 125,000 people within its wildland-urban interface and said the notion of evacuating each of them during a fire would be a daunting task.

“Every time I smell smoke…” he paused. “I can’t stop worrying about it.”

But the risk isn’t limited to the WUI anymore, Andrew Rumbach, a former professor at the University of Colorado Denver said. Climate change mixed with Colorado’s ongoing population and development book has expanded the risk further away from the mountains and foothills than many residents and officials might realize.

Is Colorado’s Front Range prepared for the next Marshall fire? (2)

Rumbach, who now teaches about natural hazard mitigation at Texas A&M University, pointed to the state’s wildfire risk map, which highlights more extreme risk in varying shades of red and orange. Much of the Western Slope, southwest Colorado and Front Range foothills are at higher risk, the map shows. But so too are more urban grasslands like those in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, near the Aurora Reservoir and northeast of Firestone.

(Video) 'We're Learning From Their Pain': Front Range Homeowners Examine Insurance Following Marshall Fire

That change is part of the evolution of preventing and fighting wildfires in the modern era, Kevin Michalak, fire management officer for Jefferson County, said. Some of the most concern sits in the Front Range’s lower elevations and grasslands.

“If you get what we saw with the Marshall fire it can move very, very fast,” Michalak said. “And most people don’t identify a wildland fire with the grasslands.”

Developments along state highways 93 and 470 are of particular concern, Michalak said. Same with those off State Highway 72.

“And anywhere south of Golden where those areas open up,” he said. “You get winds like we had and it could jump pretty easily to any tight group of houses right next to big open space areas.”

Rumbach added that the foothills around Boulder remain an “extremely high risk.”

The state isn’t prepared for more wildfires, said Democratic state Rep. Marc Snyder of Manitou Springs. He was mayor of the small town immediately west of Colorado Springs during the Waldo Canyon Fire and during the floods that followed the next year.

“We only had one way in and out of town,” Snyder said. “That’s scarier than you can think.”

Since then the small city just west of Colorado Springs has taken a more proactive approach to its wildfire planning and evacuation processes, Snyder said. But other communities haven’t always followed suit.

(Video) The science behind how the Marshall Fire spread so quickly

Michalak expressed a bit more optimism in wildfire plans across the Front Range. He pointed to the Marshall fire’s low death toll — currently, two people are missing and no other deaths have been reported — as evidence.

Is Colorado’s Front Range prepared for the next Marshall fire? (3)

Incorporating fire planning in everyday life

Rigid planning can only take a city or county so far, Michalak added. And evacuation routes are difficult to plan because they depend so much on the conditions on the ground. Stressing one route too heavily could put residents at risk if a fire breaks one way instead of another.

Instead, just as emergency officials must plan for disasters, residents must as well, Michalak said.

“We’re in an area that does catch fire,” he said. “People need to be cognizant of where they’re living, evacuation routes and know what to take with them and what to do in case something does happen.”

On a personal level, homeowners can clear trees, shrubs and grasses that might catch fire, Michalak said. They can also upgrade their roofing and siding to become more flame resistant.

After the Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs updated building codes to ban wood siding and decking, among other things, for homes in at-risk areas to avoid more fires. But that update wasn’t retroactive and Skorman noted that many of the city’s older homes are still built closely together with more flammable materials and in an area surrounded by wildfire fuels.

Colorado state building codes don’t do enough to address wildfire risk

Cities and counties shouldn’t wait until after they suffer a wildfire to make those changes, Mowery, of the Community Wildfire Planning Center, said. She noted that there are no statewide building and fire codes to address many of the risks.

Snyder added that he might propose legislation this year that would require governments to update their fire mitigation plans every five years.

(Video) Marshall Fire in Boulder County: Louisville looks ahead after a night of horror

But Fort Collins Mayor Jeni Arndt, a former state representative, said most cities would likely bristle at such a hard requirement. And because Colorado’s a home-rule state, they might be able to fight one.

Rather, Arndt said Synder might be better off if he instead proposed a broader framework that would instead offer some state funding and expertise to governments that want to update their plans.

Mowery had a similar suggestion for statewide building and fire codes, saying state officials could at least provide a model for local governments to adopt or make their own.

But public interest in broad and proactive changes wanes quickly after natural disasters, Mowery said. And public officials should work now to update and improve their plans.

They should also communicate the ongoing risks to Coloradans up and down the Front Range, Mowery said. Because without that component, there might not be much of a local will to make a change.

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Is Colorado’s Front Range prepared for the next Marshall fire? (4)

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(Video) Marshall Fire Action Report Analyzes Response, Improvements

FAQs

Will Wildfires get worse in Colorado? ›

Colorado officials warn 2022 could be the worst wildfire year in state history.

What caused the Marshall Fire in Boulder Colorado? ›

Videos show Marshall Fire started by 2 separate ignition points less than a mile apart. The starting points in Boulder County were noted by a park ranger driving in the area when the fire began on Dec. 30, 9Wants to Know has learned.

Where were the Marshall fires in Colorado? ›

The fire, which burned more than 6,000 acres, sparked just after 11 a.m. Dec. 30 near Marshall Road and Highway 93 in Boulder County. One person was killed and another is still missing after the fire, which was the most destructive in Colorado history.

What is the Marshall Fire in Colorado? ›

The Marshall Fire was a fire that started on December 30, 2021, shortly before 10:30 a.m. MST, as a grass fire in Boulder County, Colorado, United States. In terms of structures lost, it is the most destructive fire in Colorado history.

What month has the most wildfires in Colorado? ›

Historically Bollinger said those months—June and July—present the highest risk for wildfires in Colorado. But that's not necessarily still the case. Of Colorado's ten most destructive wildfires, four sparked outside of June and July. The Fourmile Canyon fire, which destroyed 169 homes in 2010, started in September.

How will climate change affect Colorado? ›

Climate Change is Water Change

Current climate models project that Colorado will warm by 2.5°F by 2025 and 4°F by 2050. Summers are likely to warm more than winters. Warmer temperatures will affect evaporation rates in our rivers, streams and reservoirs, perhaps making less water available for beneficial use.

What is causing all the fires in Colorado? ›

These legislators want more fire investigators to help change that. Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite Trees near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand Lake were charred as the East Troublesome Fire exploded in late 2020.

How many homes lost Marshall Fire? ›

The Marshall fire destroyed nearly 1,100 commercial and residential properties, but only 11 building permits have been issued in Louisville, Superior and unincorporated parts of Boulder County.

How hot was the Marshall Fire? ›

This four-panel imagery above from GOES-East shows the fire temperature as well as the fire power and temperature derived products. The peak fire power detected was 1848.94 megawatts and peak fire temperature was 1632.94K (nearly 2,500 degrees F).

Is the Boulder fire put out? ›

March 26, 2022. Crews fully contained the NCAR Fire in Boulder on Thursday, capping the fire's burn area at 190 acres. The small wildfire burned southwest of the city's Table Mesa neighborhood, near the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

What neighborhood burned in Marshall Fire? ›

The Marshall Fire was Colorado's most destructive ever in terms of property loss. It ruined nearly 1,100 residences in Boulder County, including 9 percent of the housing stock in Superior, a onetime mining town that had evolved into a suburb of 14,000.

How fast did the Marshall Fire spread? ›

The reporting revealed that first responders were outmatched from the start and that it took less than two hours for flames to spread several miles from the Marshall area into Louisville.

How can I help with Marshall Fire? ›

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials continue to provide support to Marshall Fire victims over the phone and virtually. Services will continue to be available online at DisasterAssistance.gov, the FEMA mobile app, or by calling the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362, according to a FEMA news release.

Did the 12 tribes start the fire? ›

The ranger documented that at 11:20 a.m., a ground fire started on the Twelve Tribes property and at 11:32 a.m., their shed was ablaze.

How many people died Marshall Fire? ›

There has been one confirmed death from the Marshall fire, which burned nearly 1,000 homes in December.

What was the biggest fire in Colorado? ›

Cameron Peak

What is the largest fire in US history? ›

The 1871 Peshtigo Fire, Wisconsin

At least 1 152 people were killed, making this the worst fire that claimed more lives than any of the other wildfires in US history.

Where are wildfires most common in Colorado? ›

The most at-risk properties are in El Paso, Douglas and La Plata counties.

What will Colorado look like in 2050? ›

Climate models predict a 2.5 to 6.5 degree rise by 2050. A 2-degree F increase would make Denver's temperatures in 2050 more like Pueblo's today. A 4-degree increase would make Denver more like Lamar in southeastern Colorado.

Will Colorado become a desert? ›

Colorado, Utah and Wyoming could be as dry as Arizona in the future, study says. A new study finds that the upper Colorado River basin is drying out due to climate change. This means in the future, parts of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming could more closely resemble Arizona and the desert Southwest.

Which states will fare best in climate change? ›

1. Michigan. The Great Lakes State takes the top spot in our index thanks in large part to its fairly low susceptibility to most of the major climate threats. It is no lower than 20th out of 48 states in any of the major categories.

Has the cause of the Marshall Fire been determined? ›

June 25, 2022 at 8:55 a.m. Six months after the Marshall Fire swept through eastern Boulder County and destroyed more than 1,000 homes, investigators have yet to identify the cause of the fire. The fire started near Marshall Road and Colo. 93 on Dec.

Where is the smoke in Colorado coming from? ›

The majority of the smoke coming to Colorado is from Idaho and Montana, said the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boulder.

Are the Colorado fires caused by climate change? ›

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News Thursday's wildfires in Boulder County destroyed hundreds of homes and other structures. Climate change has made severe wildfires common in Colorado.

What businesses burned Marshall Fire? ›

  • Subway. 1116 W. Dillon Rd. ...
  • Chuck E. Cheese. 305 Marshall Rd. ...
  • Louisville Kindercare. 107 McCaslin Blvd. Louisville, CO 80027.
  • Phillips 66. 191 McCaslin Blvd. Superior, CO 80027.
  • Superior Metro District. 1300 McCaslin Blvd. ...
  • Sport Stable. 1 Superior Dr. ...
  • Superior Self Storage Management Company. 7542 W Coal Creek Dr.
2 Jan 2022

How much did the Marshall Fire cost? ›

The fire destroyed homes with an estimated $1.02 billion in damages. The Colorado Division of Insurance estimated how much the homes will cost to rebuild and found that could leave up to $179 million in insurance shortfalls.

How many homes are in Boulder fire? ›

The Marshall fire destroyed 1,084 homes collectively worth more than $513 million, Boulder County authorities said Thursday as they released an updated assessment of the fire's toll. Another 149 homes were damaged in the Dec. 30 fire.

How did the Colorado fire start 2022? ›

Rodents chewing on wires in an electrical box sparked a wildfire in Waterton Canyon. September 21, 2022 at 12:54 p.m.

Has Marshall Fire been contained? ›

Firefighters reached 100% containment on the perimeter of the Marshall fire Monday evening, ending the fire's spread at 6,026 acres, according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

What does Marshall Fire mean? ›

fire marshall - an official who is responsible for the prevention and investigation of fires.

Why is Boulder being evacuated? ›

BOULDER, Colo. — Authorities issued an evacuation order for 19,000 people Saturday near a fast-moving Colorado wildfire in rolling hills south of the college town of Boulder, not far from the site of a destructive 2021 blaze that leveled more than 1,000 homes.

How big is the Boulder Fire? ›

The blaze, known as the NCAR fire, at its peak led to the evacuation of 19,000 people near Boulder. Officials said there were no injuries or structures damaged.

How big is the wildfire in Colorado? ›

With multiple record-breaking fires, the 2020 Colorado wildfire season became the largest in the state's history after burning 665,454 acres (269,300 ha).

How many homes destroyed in Boulder Colorado? ›

More than 1,000 homes were destroyed and 149 were damaged in the Marshall Fire, according to the latest damage assessment from the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. The assessment found 1,084 residential structures were destroyed.

How many homes list in the Marshall Fire? ›

In total, 1,084 homes were destroyed and 149 were damaged. Seven commercial buildings were destroyed and another 30 damaged. Boulder County, City of Louisville, and the Town of Superior have updated the list of impacted properties, which can be found here.

What percent contained is the Marshall Fire? ›

The Marshall Fire is 6,219 acres and 62% of the perimeter has been contained.

What caused the Marshall Fire 2021? ›

Causes often remain a mystery

Two people likely died in the Marshall fire, which is now considered the most destructive ever recorded in Colorado. The fire was fueled by dry conditions and months of unseasonably warm temperatures, factors scientists say are intensified by climate change.

How much damage was done in the Marshall Fire? ›

Marshall Fire destroyed 1,084 homes, damaged 149 others for estimated $513 million in losses. DENVER – The Marshall Fire destroyed 1,084 homes and damaged 149 others worth an estimated $513 million, according to updated totals from Boulder County.

How much damage did the Marshall Fire Cause? ›

Marshall Fire Update by the Awful Numbers

More than 1,000 homes were destroyed, over 100 were damaged, and losses are estimated at over half a billion dollars, making this one of the most expensive catastrophes in Colorado history.

What do fire victims need most? ›

Basic Necessities

The family's basic needs include adequate clothing, such as school clothing for children and work clothes for adults. Other items a displaced family must replace are medicines and physical aids like glasses.

How can I help the wildfires in Colorado? ›

Record-breaking wildfires caused devastation across Colorado. Your gift will support communities across the state as they work to prepare, rebuild and recover from the fires. Thank you for helping communities recover!

When did Marshall Fire start? ›

What is the Yellow Deli 12 tribes? ›

The Yellow Deli is essentially the Twelve Tribes' purse. The cult has branches and communities across the world, each running shops and cafes to earn money. The delis are only staffed by unpaid Twelve Tribes members and appear to be their primary source of income.

Who owns the Yellow Deli in Boulder? ›

In Colorado, the Twelve Tribes owns and operates the Yellow Deli in Boulder and Maté Factor Café in Manitou Springs.

Where was the Marshall fire located? ›

Marshall Fire

Who started the Marshall Fire in CO? ›

Videos show Marshall Fire started by 2 separate ignition points less than a mile apart. The starting points in Boulder County were noted by a park ranger driving in the area when the fire began on Dec. 30, 9Wants to Know has learned.

What caused the Marshall plane crash? ›

In the report, the NTSB concluded, "[...] the probable cause of this accident was the descent below Minimum Descent Altitude during a nonprecision approach under adverse operating conditions, without visual contact with the runway environment".

How big is the Marshall Fire? ›

The fire, which burned more than 6,000 acres, sparked just after 11 a.m. Dec. 30 near Marshall Road and Highway 93 in Boulder County. One person was killed and another is still missing after the fire, which was the most destructive in Colorado history.

Are there wildfires in Colorado right now? ›

There are currently no active wildfires in southern Colorado or elsewhere in the state.

Did the snow stop the fires in Colorado? ›

Eight inches of snow on Friday and early Saturday helped extinguish the wildfires that prompted the evacuation of more than 30,000 people in suburban Colorado. As overnight snow finally extinguished the most destructive wildfires in Colorado history, authorities in Boulder County now say three people are missing.

What is the largest wildfire in Colorado history? ›

Cameron Peak

How common are wildfires in Colorado? ›

The report finds that about 1 million properties — or 40% of the state's total — have some wildfire risk through 2052. Of these, 85,000 properties face at least a "moderate" risk, defined as having up to a 6% chance of experiencing a wildfire during the next 30 years.

Where is the smoke in Colorado coming from? ›

The majority of the smoke coming to Colorado is from Idaho and Montana, said the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boulder.

Why is the sky hazy in Colorado? ›

Those in the mountains in recent days have likely noticed a haze floating around in Colorado's skies. According to mapping from AirNow.gov, this haze appears to be from smoke that is traveling into Colorado from many fires burning in the Pacific Northwest, particularly those in Idaho and Montana.

What does red flag fire warning mean? ›

Red Flag Warning & Fire Weather Watches. The National Weather Service issues Red Flag Warnings & Fire Weather Watches to alert fire departments of the onset, or possible onset, of critical weather and dry conditions that could lead to rapid or dramatic increases in wildfire activity.

How did the fire in Colorado start? ›

Investigators believe a wildfire that forced the evacuation of nearly 20,000 people in northern Colorado last month was started by a very small campfire near a hiking trail, authorities said Thursday.

Can fire burn wet ground? ›

If it is raining, it is really important that you get the fire off the wet ground. It will be next to impossible to get the tinder lit if it is on wet ground. The easiest method of doing this is to dig away the wet earth. Once you get to dry earth, start building your fire.

Can snow put out a forest fire? ›

The dry snow has enough air in it to fuel the fire, but the water content of the melted dry snow is not enough to quench the fire. So, although heavy snowfalls can usually help extinguish winter wildfires, there are situations when snow won't help.

What is the largest fire in US history? ›

The 1871 Peshtigo Fire, Wisconsin

At least 1 152 people were killed, making this the worst fire that claimed more lives than any of the other wildfires in US history.

Why are there so many fires in Colorado? ›

Climate change has made severe wildfires common in Colorado. Until recently, however, the most destructive disasters occurred in communities in or near forested areas. Meanwhile, people living in the Eastern Plains and foothills often worried the most about incoming smoke.

Why is it so warm in Colorado? ›

This climate pattern starts by churning up colder water in the Pacific Ocean. That pushes the jet stream north and brings wetter weather to the Pacific Northwest and drier, warmer conditions to Colorado and other western states.

Where homes will face the most wildfire risk in next 30 years? ›

California, Texas and Florida have the most homes facing a moderate risk of wildfire, defined as a 1% chance over 30 years. Other Western states have a much higher portion of properties at risk of fire.

What are the greatest risks that wildfires pose in Colorado? ›

​ ​What are the greatest risks that wildfires pose in Colorado? Wildfires pose most risk to property and buildings. Colorado ranks third in the country as having the most residential homes at risk to wildfires.

Videos

1. Dramatic Marshall Fire Evacuation Captured by Bodycams
(Inside Edition)
2. Why the Marshall Fire was so destructive
(9NEWS)
3. Boulder County Sheriff Says Marshall Fire Investigation Will Take A While
(CBS Colorado)
4. Latest on Middle Fork, Marshall fires in Boulder County
(Denver7 – The Denver Channel)
5. This home stands alone after the Marshall Fire
(Next 9NEWS)
6. What happens if someone is held responsible for the Marshall Fire?
(FOX31 Denver)

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