Volunteers at the YMCA in Lafayette stored food, blankets, pillows, pet food and other supplies inside a truck for people evacuated due to the Marshall Fire on Dec. 30, 2021. As of Jan. 2, about two dozen people were still at the shelter. Credit: John Herrick

On Sunday afternoon, Bryan Giles, 29, met his co-worker in the parking lot outside the YMCA of Northern Colorado in Lafayette to pick up a mountain bike. 

Giles, who was staying at the emergency shelter for residents displaced by the Marshall Fire, said he lost everything except his cat and the clothes on his back. He said he didn’t have renter’s insurance. 

On Monday, he needed to go to work. He planned to ride his bike. 

“It’s only a few miles,” Giles said as a plow truck circled the parking lot pushing salty slush from the weekend’s storm. 

Giles was among the 28 people who slept at the shelter Sunday, according to a tally from the American Red Cross, which is overseeing the shelter operations. The Marshall Fire destroyed nearly 1,000 homes and businesses. Two people are still missing. The cause of the fire is under investigation by local and federal authorities, according to county officials. 

Unlike many residents who have since bunked up with family members,  Giles grew up in the foster care system and doesn’t know of any family. And in a county grappling with a housing crisis, he’s not sure where to begin looking for another place to live. 

“I don’t know what’s next. I’m here. I have a roof over my head. I have food. I have clothes on my back,” he said. 

In the days after the fire, the emergency shelter slept more than 100 people who evacuated their homes, according to Jen Spettel, the vice president of branch operations at the YMCA of Northern Colorado. 

“The people left behind are those who have the most needs,” Spettel said. 

Many who remain at the YMCA, the last shelter to remain open for people displaced by the disaster, don’t have family or friends to stay with. Others have medical needs or are older.

While residents navigate what to do next, Spettel said the YMCA is ready to take people as long as it takes. 

The Marshall Fire burned nearly 1,000 homes and businesses in Boulder County on Dec. 31, 2021. Credit: Anthony Albidrez

Waiting to return home 

The Red Cross has nurses and counselors available to help people with medical and mental health needs. In addition to dishing out supplies like food, clothes and blankets, Red Cross case managers are helping connect people to housing resources with the city and county of Boulder. 

Some people who remain at the shelter are either unable to return to their homes due to evacuation orders or are waiting for their gas, electricity and water to be turned on. 

The Town of Superior shut off water supplies in part to restore pressures and prevent pipes from freezing and bursting during last weekend’s cold snap. Louisville residents also lack water as the city flushes the system. The city is asking residents who have water to boil it or use bottled water for drinking or preparing food. 

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy, the region’s electric utility, is still reconnecting homes to power and gas

The YMCA and the disaster assistance center at 1755 S. Public Rd. in Lafayette are offering residents bottled water and electric space heaters. 

Bill James, 76, said he is one of the lucky ones because his house is still standing. But he is waiting for heat and water. He said he hopes he can return tomorrow. 

“I keep saying that,” he said from his cot in the YMCA gymnasium. “But I’m hoping tomorrow.” 

Rebecca Cox, 33, said she, too, was waiting for her water and gas to come back on. 

She’s been through natural disasters before, she said, having grown up in hurricane-battered Florida. But this disaster came after a months-long stint of homelessness following a breakup, she said. 

“It was shocking to think I could be homeless again. But it was reassuring to know I wasn’t,” she said as she brushed off her car before driving to an apartment her friends helped her find. She plans to stay there while she waits for her water and gas to come back on, she said.  

‘The most uncertain time in my life’

As people left, others arrived. 

Adam Kucera, 34, had been staying with a friend before deciding to come to the YMCA. He said he has been living in a bus, which was parked at the Costco supermarket. The bus was most likely destroyed, he said.

Like Giles, Kucera said he doesn’t know where to go next. 

“It’s a challenge. It’s a new opportunity to see what I’m capable of, like starting from the ground up. What kind of life can I rebuild for myself?” he said. 

But Kucera said his optimism wore off when he lost his jacket at the shelter. He said the jacket contained the title to a car he purchased that weekend. 

“I need to get my spirits back up,” he said. “I don’t know how to feel after that.” 

Kucera added, “This is the most uncertain time in my life. It put everything up in the air. I’m kind of curious to see where it’s all gonna come down.”

John Herrick

John Herrick reports on housing, climate, health and local government for Boulder Reporting Lab. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness.