Mapping shows Marshall Fire has burned thousands of acres

The fire destroyed hundreds of homes southeast of Boulder, Colorado

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Updated at 3:47 p.m. MST Dec. 31, 2021

photo snow in boulder co
Photo from a traffic camera in Boulder, CO at 3:44 p.m. Friday. Credit: city of Boulder.

Judging from the photo above taken in Boulder, Colorado at 3:44 p.m. the weather forecast was correct. Forecasters are predicting an additional six inches or so through noon Saturday in the area of the Marshall Fire.

Updated 12:40 p.m. MST Dec. 31, 2021

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said in a briefing Friday morning that there have been no reports of fatalities on the 6,025-acre Marshall Fire southeast of Boulder, Colorado. That could change as crews assess the impacts of the fire, but if the number remains at zero, it would be very remarkable considering the rapid spread of the blaze which allowed some residents only minutes to escape. It is also a testament to the amazing job done by firefighters and law enforcement to make the necessary notifications, which no doubt saved lives.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Marshall Fire, including the most recent, click here:

Friday morning there is very little remaining fire activity, other than smoldering remains of destroyed structures. Firefighters do not expect the perimeter to grow, especially in light of the snow in the forecast.

The one person reported as missing has been found.

There are 1,778 homes within the perimeter of the fire, but not all of them were affected by the fire, which burned in a mosaic pattern. Some entire subdivisions were “totally gone,” the Sheriff said, including the the Sagamore subdivision just west of Superior and the Old Town Superior area. Dozens more burned homes are west of Superior in the Marshall area, and on the south side of Louisville.

Governor Jared Polis and the Sheriff said Friday that there could be as many as 500 to 1,000 homes that were destroyed. That could be an increase from the estimated 580 figure released by the Sheriff Thursday evening. There were also a number of commercial properties damaged or destroyed.

As entire subdivisions were wiped out, many household plumbing systems were also damaged or destroyed, which led to water gushing from the remains of structures. This depleted the water available at fire hydrants which became a challenge for firefighters. Louisville residents were advised to either boil their water or use bottled water for drinking, making ice, and other uses because the city changed its water distribution to untreated water in its efforts to make water available to firefighters. Other communities with boil water advisories include Superior, Louisville, San Souci Mobile Home Park, East Boulder County Water District, and the Eldorado Artesian Spring water users.

President Biden has approved a disaster declaration which will be finalized Friday. This will expedite approvals of assistance for home owners and small businesses that suffered losses.

Sheriff Pelle said the wind blew down power lines near the point of origin of the fire, but the specific cause has not been confirmed.

On Friday about 200 people were staying in emergency shelters.

The Incident Commander said the strategy during the first few hours was not to attempt to suppress the fire, but the priority was life safety, notifying residents and implementation of the evacuation. With 50 to 100 mph winds, suppression would have been futile. Later when the evacuation was complete and the wind speeds had decreased, they were able to begin working on the flanks.

The Sheriff said “a federal incident commander” will be relieving the IC that has been running the fire since Thursday morning. This sounds like an interagency incident management team (IMT) has been ordered. The National Situation Report dated 7:30 Friday morning lists no fires in Colorado or the assignment of any IMTs. This is an oversight at the National Interagency Fire Center, which is no doubt working with a skeleton staff during the holidays.

The map of the fire was updated late Friday morning, increasing the size by 20 acres, bringing the total up to 6,025. The tweaks were minor and involved a few changes in the perimeter south of Marshall Lake and on the east side near the intersection of Dillon Road and S. 96th Street.

7:05 a.m. MST Dec. 31, 2021

Map, Marshall Fire, Dec. 30, 2021
Map, Marshall Fire, Dec. 30, 2021.

Overnight mapping Thursday night found that the Marshall Fire southeast of Boulder, Colorado had burned about 6,000 acres. The fire started at 10:30 Thursday morning and was pushed by wind that in some areas gusted up to 100 mph while the relative humidity was in the 20s. Tens of thousands of residents have been under evacuation orders. At least 580 homes, a shopping center, and a hotel burned. That number will increase in the coming days as authorities are able to access the area.

Evacuation areas, Marshall Fire Map
Evacuation areas, Marshall Fire. Map accessed at 6:30 a.m. Dec. 31, 2021. More details.

All patients were evacuated from the Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville. The Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette transferred about 54 of their most critical patients to other facilities.

No deaths have been reported, but at 5 p.m. Thursday Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said, “Due to the magnitude of this fire, the intensity of this fire, and its presence in such a heavily populated area we would not be surprised if there are fatalities.”

Thursday afternoon the Target shopping complex and the Element Hotel in Superior were burning.

Vicinity Map, Marshall Fire, Dec. 30, 2021
Vicinity Map, Marshall Fire, Dec. 30, 2021.

Fire officials said the cause of the fire was likely downed power lines during the extreme winds.

The weather has changed for the better, as least from a firefighting viewpoint. The 50 to 100 mph winds with low humidities are being replaced Friday morning with temperatures around freezing and a 40 percent chance of snow. By 11 a.m. that chance will increase to 76 percent, then 96 percent by sunset. Snow accumulations are predicted to be 0.6 inch during the day on Friday, with another 5 inches overnight and into Saturday morning. The wind Friday will be out of the north switching to the east at 7 to 9 mph gusting in the afternoon to 16 mph. We don’t often include wind chill in our articles about ongoing wildfires, but that will be a factor today, 250 dropping to 17o by 5 p.m.

We will update this article as additional information becomes available.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

15 thoughts on “Mapping shows Marshall Fire has burned thousands of acres”

  1. On the Southeast corner of 66th Street & Marshall Rd. from the Marshall lake from Fish & Gun Club, My dad Angelo and I found a black male bull cow that laid dead, naked by burning the hair in the wildfire. FREAKING OUT!!! SCARY!!

  2. The Marshall Fire was not a freak event. It’s the continued result of providing Nature with huge amounts of highly flammable fuels (in unprotected, high-density neighborhoods of stick-built homes, natural gas lines, automobiles, etc.) in arid, wind-blown natural environments. One spark, lightning strike, or other ignition point, and it’s all ashes.

    Consider other Colorado wildfires ( such as the Hayman Fire (2002), Fourmile Canyon Fire (2010), High Park Fire (2012), Waldo Canyon Fire (2012), Black Forest Fire (2013), Cameron Peak Fire (2020), and East Troublesome Fire (2020).

    The wind blown Marshall Fire burned 1600 acres and reduced 991 homes to ashes in less than six hours. Fortunately, the close proximity of good streets and highways coupled with the rapid response of local police, firefighters, and other first responders allowed 35,000 people to escape.

    The next time – and there will be a next time – they may not be so lucky.

  3. These Winds have always flowed down the East slope for +centuries. I wish they would start grazing on the open space. This fire just stoped burning homes only 300 yards from my house. I still can’t get to my home I’am a retired Wildland Fire Fighter 32 years USFS DIVS,ICT3! Worried about my water pipes freezing.

  4. Thanks Bill for your coverage of this sad event.. The news media, even out here on the left coast, carried news about this tragedy.. Our hearts go out to those affected by these fires.. Having lived in the high country of the Southern Rockies for some 16 years, I know what 17 degrees wind chill feels like.. Let’s hope those displaced find a warm place to shelter in, along with a good warm meal!

  5. Really? Weird. She didn’t send any from my unit, which is only 3.5 hrs to the N. Sounds like she is trying to score Twitter points with a BS claim. Our dispatch received ZERO requests.

    1. My sister in Boulder said old bomb site from WWII.
      It’s lightly snowing this morning she said. My brother’s home escaped the spreading fire in Louisville within 3/4-mile.

  6. What a terrible, freak event. My heart goes out to everyone affected, especially since it’s during the holidays. Not to be nitpicky, but I think you meant to write that it started around 10:30 AM Thursday morning, not Friday?

      1. I’m curious about the start time of the fire. Was it *reported* at 10:30am or is that time an extrapolation of some kind? I guess I’m trying to ask whether an earlier time of awareness about the fire could have allowed intervention by firefighters despite the high winds.

        Thanks, David

        1. Downed power line. Seriously though no excuse why they are not burring lines. They know they cause fires and know about high winds. We will see if excel energy gets sued for the damages like PG&E did in the California fires.


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