Good morning, Boulder.

In the immediate aftermath of the Marshall Fire, we spoke with a 2010 fire survivor who described a “world of hurt” that followed that disaster. The hurt of navigating insurance systems to try to replace what’s replaceable — and the hurt of losing what isn’t.

It’s a theme that has come up in conversations with Marshall Fire survivors ever since: the loss of heirlooms, photographs and other things that tell our histories. We’ve heard, too, about what it’s like to recover these things, inside heaps of debris.

Today, with several partners, we’re bringing you these stories — of things lost and then found. Eli Imadali, a Colorado photojournalist, brings to life, in photos and narrative, vignettes of memories mined from the ash. Leigh Paterson, in a package that will air on KUNC in three pieces, created an audio version. NPR is co-publishing with us and will have a radio segment running nationally this week.

We’re proud to create a record of these stories and help ensure they reach beyond our community. We’re thankful for those featured for being so honest and vulnerable. You might need a Kleenex as you read their stories. But there’s hope and resilience, too — and a universal experience to connect to.

Thanks for reading,

Stacy, publisher

Various objects Jill Sellars recovered from the ashes of her burnt down Superior home are displayed at her new apartment rental in the town on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Credit: Eli Imadali

Quickly

☀️ Warm, dry and breezy: Expect highs in the mid-to-upper-80s today under mostly clear skies. High winds expected in the afternoon.

💰 Funding for water infrastructure: In a tweet from Rep. Joe Neguse, the congressman celebrated house passage of the Water Resources Development Act, which he calls “a significant investment for Boulder County’s water infrastructure — providing an additional $10 Million for the city’s wastewater and water management.”

✍️ Marshall Fire bill becomes law: Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law to support firefighting and rebuilding efforts after the Dec. 30 disaster. The legislation (SB22-206) also establishes the Office of Climate Preparedness to “take a long-term approach to wildfire mitigation” and will provide $10,000 incentives for residents who rebuild their destroyed homes to the to 2021 International Energy Conservation Code standards or higher.

🏳️‍🌈 Pioneering former county clerk dies: “Today, the LGBTQ+ movement lost a pioneering ally, and I lost a dear friend,” Out Boulder County Executive Director Mardi Moore wrote in a statement. “Although Clela Rorex did not intend to be champion for LGBTQ+ equality, she became one on March 27, 1975 when she issued the first marriage license in the United States to a gay couple. That act of courage changed the course of her life and the course of the lives of countless LGBTQ+ people. Clela was 40 years ahead of the country’s politics on marriage equality. It would be difficult to overstate how important her decision to issue that marriage license was on the movement for marriage equality.”

🚴 Bike to Work Day: Head into the office on two wheels this Wednesday, June 22, when Boulder celebrates Bike to Work Day. Festivities will include a Bike Home Happy Hour at Upslope Brewing and a Fix-a-Flat workshop at Community Cycles.

🚌 Lyons Flyer: Per the county: “Boulder County, with funding from the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and in partnership with the Town of Lyons, the City of Boulder, and Via Mobility Services is restoring commuter transit bus service along US 36 between Lyons and Boulder. The service, rebranded as the Lyons Flyer, will replace the Y route, formerly operated by RTD.”

💻 Business center for fire survivors: The Superior Chamber Business Center welcomes Marshall Fire survivors and affected businesses to “use office equipment, hold meetings, use the workspace, and access recovery guidance and assistance from volunteers” through Sunday, July 31. Facilities are located inside he Superior Marketplace, 300 Center Drive. Contact chamber staff or Superior Rising volunteers at 303-554-0789 or via email.

🦠 Green algae precautions: With summer upon us, Boulder OSMP is reminding residents to exercise caution around lakes and ponds where algae blooms may be present. Per the city: “At elevated levels, some algae may produce toxins that are harmful to people and pets. Please remember to avoid contact with the water where algae are observed.”

🖼️ Arts campus feedback: Got thoughts on the planned new BMoCA North Boulder Creative Campus? The museum is looking for community feedback to help “provide language and direction based on our shared values.” Take the survey here.

Top Story

‘Some bruises, some cuts, but it survived’: In the ashes of the Marshall Fire, recovered objects illuminate priceless memories and the intangible cost of the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history

By Eli Imadali for BRL, in collaboration with KUNC and NPR

A teacup and saucer. Mother’s ruby earrings. Dozens of marbles and a ceramic baby Jesus.

These were some of the objects Marshall Fire survivors were able to find after sifting through the ashes of their former homes.

More than a thousand homes were destroyed when the fire tore through  Louisville, Superior and stretches of unincorporated Boulder County on Dec. 30, 2021. For those caught in the blaze’s unforgiving path, there was little time to grab anything but essentials — in some cases, the clothes on their back and each other.

When the ash settled, residents returned in droves to look for what remained. Many were and still are haunted by what they left behind, not knowing how all-consuming the fire would be.

The Marshall Fire’s devastation in terms of property, with insured losses topping $1 billion, is well documented. But these soot-spotted objects, pulled from the ash and embedded with the stories of survivors, illuminate a universal grief. They serve as reminders of what used to be for survivors who fear they’ll forget the stories that went up in smoke. And for some, these items begin a new story.

With debris removal underway and ash piles being cleared in the burn area, Boulder Reporting Lab and KUNC spoke with survivors who lost their homes in the fire, to learn about what they found while sifting through the ashes — what it meant to them before the blaze, and what it means to them now.

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BRL Picks

😂 Comic relief: Boulder Comedy Festival returns June 23–26 for another year of stand-up laughs. Featuring national and local talent, the funny festivities “highlight women and diversity in comedy” at venues like Front Range Brewing, Dairy Arts Center, Hotel Boulderado, and more. Full schedule here.

🎨 Art at altitude: Head to downtown Nederland, June 25-26, for the return of the High Peaks Art Festival, a 20-year tradition featuring live music, food trucks and lots of local arts and crafts. Work from more than 40 artists will be on sale — from painting to photography, metalwork, fiber art, jewelry and more.

🌲 For the trees: The St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership, designed to “increase the fire resilience of our forests for the benefit of our communities, forest ecosystems, and water quality,” is offering the opportunity to sound off on upcoming forest projects in Boulder County. Learn more here, and leave a public comment.

Covid-19 Updates: June 20, 2022

  • 301 daily new cases (7-day avg.) ⬆️Up 132% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 16 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) ⬇️Down from a high of 26 last week.
  • 51% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 69% since July 2020.
  • Vaccines for the very young: “U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 to include use in children down to 6 months of age.”  

What We’re Reading

📖 Body of truck driver recovered from Gross Reservoir: “Divers recovered the body of a construction worker from the cab of a dump truck that careened into the Gross Reservoir after an accident early Saturday morning. The dump truck was hauling 7,000 pounds of rock when the roadway gave way near the Gross Reservoir Dam, causing the truck to roll down an embankment and into the water, according to the Colorado State Patrol.” [Denver Channel]

📖 What’s at stake in Colorado State Board of Ed election: “Democrats say they have a track record of positive change and will focus on student needs rather than ideology. Republicans say they’ll center parents’ rights and school choice, focus on core academic skills, and block efforts to promote a more inclusive approach to teaching race, gender, and sexuality. Republicans are seizing on issues that have animated voters nationally and locally in a backlash to more progressive approaches in the classroom.” [Chalkbeat Colorado]

📖 Immersive ‘Skyspace’ art installation by world-renowned James Turrell unveiled at Green Mountain Falls: “Clad in gray stone, the windowless boxlike structure clings to a steep forested slope overlooking the small town. Good shoes are a necessity for the half-mile hike to get to it. That’s part of what’s called the Skyspace pilgrimage, according to Scott Levy, the executive director of Green Box, the arts organization that manages this installation.” [CPR News]

ICYMI from BRL

🚨 City of Boulder eyes new non-police alternative for 911 calls. During a monthly town hall with the Boulder Police Department, city officials said they are developing a potential pilot program to send mental health clinicians, paramedics and case managers on 911 calls without police assistance.

🏠 What does a fire resilient property look like? One Boulder County resident’s home offers a glimpse. Join ‘geology nut’ Howard Gordon on a guided tour of his Wildfire Partners certified house.

🏳️‍🌈 Colorado becomes latest state to collect LGBTQ data to address health disparities. Out Boulder County helped make it happen. The new law will allow the state health department to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity. It came after the nonprofit surveyed residents and found vaccine, mental health and other disparities.

Thank you for investing in us!

Our summer membership drive is on. Thanks to your generous support, we’ve already reached our goal of 100 new and renewing BRL members by July 4. We know there are many organizations vying for your attention, and we don’t take your support for granted. You can still join us today and become a BRL member and help us exceed our goal. Donations are tax-deductible, and any amount qualifies you as a member.

Thanks for reading!

Our journalism depends on you.
Have a story tip for us?
Send us your ideas at tips@boulderreportinglab.org.

– The BRL Team

Stacy Feldman

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