Boulder Reporting Lab has co-developed a special projects course at the University of Colorado Boulder to examine and explain the health and other impacts of the Marshall Fire. 

The course – Marshall Fire as Living Lab – was created with Hillary Rosner, longtime science journalist and assistant director of CU Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism, which is part of the College of Media, Communication and Information (CMCI). It initially will be offered during the fall semester 2022. Public radio station KUNC in northern Colorado and The Conversation, a global nonprofit news organization that brings academic research to the public, will be collaborating partners.

Students will elevate the extensive research efforts of Boulder County’s scientific community that has been working to understand concerns ranging from air and water quality to soil health and other issues. The burn area has become a living laboratory for studying the impact of urban wildfire on people’s lives. 

The students’ work will be published with editing and support from the Boulder Reporting Lab, on its website and through a special newsletter. 

This joint project comes at a critical time in the post-Marshall Fire recovery and rebuilding process. A total of 1,084 homes were destroyed on Dec. 30, 2021, when the wildfire tore through the Town of Superior and City of Louisville, and 149 more were damaged. Eight months later, it remains unclear how many homeowners are rebuilding. People have relocated due to cost concerns, insurance delays, and uncertainty about health concerns over air and water quality, among other issues. Many residents remain in limbo. This course aims to produce clear information about potential health dangers in the environment around those affected by the disaster. 

“This exciting local news-student collaboration will help us better inform the Boulder County community about the devastating wildfire that continues to wreak havoc on many lives, while helping train the next generation of locally focused climate journalists,” said Stacy Feldman, founder and publisher of Boulder Reporting Lab. 

The reporting will apply far beyond Boulder to every fire-risk region and the many communities currently recovering from fires. The proximity of some of the world’s leading scientific research institutions to the burn area has made this fire an unprecedented laboratory for understanding the effects of urban wildfire disasters on human and environmental health. 

In the wake of the disaster, researchers from CU Boulder – some of them directly affected by the fire – and those from other universities mobilized to launch or plan dozens of research projects. Their work ranges from studying water contamination and the Coal Creek ecosystem to housing foundation damage and pollution from heavy metals on soils. There has been little public communication of the status and results of this research.  

“There’s so much vitally important research happening right here in our backyard by CU Boulder researchers and others to make sense of the impacts of the Marshall Fire,” said Hillary Rosner. “We aim for this project to be a conduit between researchers and the public and also create a model for future journalism collaborations.”

About Boulder Reporting Lab 

Boulder Reporting Lab is a nonprofit, 501c3 local news organization founded in 2021 to fill a gap in Boulder-local, public interest daily journalism. 

About Hillary Rosner 

Hillary Rosner is a science journalist with more than 20 years’ experience, and is assistant director of CU Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism. She teaches courses in science writing and environmental journalism, among other topics. Rosner sits on the board of Boulder Reporting Lab. 

Stacy Feldman

Stacy Feldman is the founder and publisher of Boulder Reporting Lab. She previously co-founded and was executive editor of Inside Climate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit newsroom covering the climate emergency. She was a 2020-21 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she developed the concept for BRL.

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