Investigators are looking for the cause of a Colorado wildfire. The rare winter blaze burned about 6,000 acres and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes. Experts say similar events will likely become more common as suburbs grow in fire-prone areas.
The Boulder County area known as Marshall Mesa is near the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills. It overlooks the more heavily populated suburbs to the east that were devastated by the fast-moving fire last week. The area is surrounded by tinder-dry public open space and private grasslands.
Authorities say a passerby captured video of a burning shed the day the fire began. It is unclear whether the burning shed started the larger fire—or the shed caught fire as a result of other flames.
One thing seems certain: “The fire originated somewhere in that neighborhood,” says Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle.
The inferno broke out unusually late in 2021 following months of drought. The year included a dry fall and a winter with hardly any snow at this point.
Response teams are searching for two people still missing, while survivors sort through the charred remnants of their homes to find any salvageable belongings.
Pelle has not commented on whether he thinks the fire was arson. But one sheriff’s official confirms that several properties are under investigation, including one in Marshall Mesa, about two miles west of the hard-hit town of Superior. A National Guard Humvee blocks access to that property.
In the search for missing people, crews are looking for a woman in Superior and a man from the nearby Marshall community. Other investigators are trying to determine whether the missing residents might have made it out but not contacted their families or friends.
Rex and Barba Hickman went through the ashes of their Louisville home with their son and his wife. The Hickmans had evacuated with their dog, their iPads, and the clothes on their backs.
The couple’s son Austin cut a safe open to reveal gold and silver coins, melted credit cards, keys, and the charred remains of the couple’s passports.
Rex Hickman says he’s heartbroken to discover that there was nothing left of their home of 23 years. “There’s a numbness that hits you first. You know, kind of like you go into crisis mode. You think about what you can do, what you can’t do,” he says. “The real pain is going to sink in over time.”
Houses burned to the foundations are still smoldering in some places. But the blaze is no longer considered an immediate threat—especially with frigid temperatures and a blanket of snow that fell Saturday.
Most of the 991 buildings destroyed by the fire were homes. But the blaze also burned through eight businesses at a shopping center in Louisville, including a nail salon and a Subway restaurant. In neighboring Superior, 12 damaged businesses included a Target, a Chuck E. Cheese, a Tesla car dealership, a hotel, and the town hall.
The two towns lie about 20 miles northwest of Denver and have a combined population of 34,000.
The Boulder Valley School District, which serves the wildfire area, plans to resume classes today and to provide counseling services for students and staff affected by the flames.
In the short term, the Hickmans must find a rental property and clothing. Their insurance company has told them it will take at least two years to rebuild their home.
Still, they realize they’re blessed compared to many of their neighbors. “We have each other. We have great friends, wonderful family,” Rex Hickman says. “So many people have got to be suffering much more than we are, and we feel for them.”
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. — Romans 12:15
(A burned truck in a destroyed neighborhood in Louisville, Colorado, on Sunday, January 2, 2022. AP/Thomas Peipert)