As the smoke clears from Boulder County’s devastating wildfires, the scale of destruction is coming into grim view. Nine hundred ninety-one homes and buildings are destroyed, with another 127 structures damaged. Thousands of lives are changed forever. As of this writing, two people are missing.

When we published this story on Dec. 3, about challenges faced by local fire management teams in the face of a staffing shortage and changing climate, we wondered if the timing was off. After all — wildfire season was over, wasn’t it?

Like so much during these past few years, none of us had any idea what was coming. But we all knew something wasn’t right. Last November’s snowfall marked Boulder County’s first in more than 200 days, following a year that saw three of the largest wildfires in state history.

We may be shocked by the scope of the destruction, but as writer Allen Best says in one of today’s top stories, “the climate writing was on the wall.” His article is a deep dive on how warming temperatures and drought helped fuel the flames that decimated our community on Dec. 30.

Also in this newsletter, you’ll find important updates and information on the state of utility services and disaster assistance, plus a list of businesses destroyed or damaged by the fires, the latest on discounted hotel availability for victims, an insurance explainer and more.

Because of the overwhelm of vital information, BRL Today will be a daily newsletter during the immediate aftermath of this crisis. What do you need from us right now? Let us know.

– Jezy, managing editor

Wildfires destroyed 991 homes and buildings, damaging an additional 127 structures, in Boulder County on Dec. 30. Credit: Anthony Albidrez

Top Stories

Marshall Fire: The face of climate change, manipulating from the margins

The factors that combined to create the historic fire last week represent a new dynamic, unprecedented in Colorado. Read the full story

A list of businesses destroyed or damaged in the fire

More than 20 businesses were destroyed or damaged, according to “preliminary” and “partial” official estimates. This includes the entire Superior Marketplace. Read the full story

Boulder hotels are cutting rates for fire victims, but they’re hard-pressed for space (updated)

Boulder Reporting Lab spoke with hotel employees to get a sense of how supply is meeting demand. No rooms were available as of Sunday evening, for instance, at the Embassy Suites Boulder. Ten rooms had been available the night before. Read the full story

Marshall Fire: Here’s what to do right now if you lost your home in Boulder County

Reporter John Herrick spoke with attorney Natascha O’Flaherty, who has been helping Colorado residents get insurance payouts for properties lost in the East Troublesome Fire. She passes on the lessons she’s learned, advising prompt action. Read the full story

In response to ACLU letter, City of Boulder defends its camping ban

The Boulder attorney defended the constitutionality of the city’s public camping ban in response to a request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado to suspend the ordinance this winter because of shelter capacity. Read the full story

Quickly

⏱️ The Marshall Fire is currently 6,219 acres, and 74% of the perimeter has been contained, per Boulder County.
⏱️ Areas of “significant heat,” which exist around some damaged structures, could potentially reignite. Firefighters are determining safety for each structure on a case-by-case basis.
⏱️ A boil water notice remains in effect for residents of Louisville and Superior.
⏱️ Superior officials estimate potable water will return Friday, Jan. 7. Louisville officials estimate Sunday, Jan. 9, for its residents.
⏱️ Natural gas service is expected to be “substantially complete” in Superior and Louisville by Tuesday, Jan. 4, according to Xcel Energy.
⏱️ As of yesterday evening, the areas of Creekside, Circle Park and The Ridge have been moved to a “soft closure,” meaning residents may gain entry by showing ID and proof of address.
⏱️ A disaster assistance center opens today at 1755 South Public Rd. in Lafayette, offering insurance consultations, financial and food assistance, mental health support and other resources for fire victims.
⏱️ All BVSD schools will open Wednesday, Jan. 5, as planned. No buildings were damaged by flames.
⏱️ Boulder County Public Health is urging residents to get a tetanus shot if they’ve been cleaning up after a fire.
⏱️ According to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management (OEM), official sites have reached capacity for food and supply donations.
⏱️ Instead of material donations, OEM encourages people to support fire victims by donating to coloradogives.org.

Covid-19 in Boulder County: Jan. 3, 2022

  • 321 daily new cases (7-day avg.) 🔺Up 214% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 46 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) 🔺Up from avg. of 39 since July 2020.
  • 62% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 72% since July 2020.
  • Data: Here’s how and where we’re tracking all of the above.

Latest Covid news

  • Stazio Fields testing site is back open. As of noon yesterday, testing is once again available here seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Find a complete list of Covid-19 testing sites in Boulder County here.
  • Colorado updates guidance on quarantine and isolation. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has changed its recommendations to match new guidance from the CDC. “This updated guidance reduces the recommended time in isolation for those in the general population with COVID-19 from 10 to five days, if asymptomatic on day five, followed by an additional five days wearing a mask when around others. This change is based on data showing that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the course of illness.” 
  • National guard deployed. Last week, Gov. Jared Polis authorized the activation of more than 200 Colorado National Guard members help at testing sites and other Covid-19 pandemic recovery efforts, according to a news release. Some residents reported on social media waiting an hour or more last week for a test at the Stazio Fields testing site.
  • Boosters by the numbers. Slightly more than a third of booster-eligible residents in Boulder County have received the extra shot, according to an analysis of state data. In part due to waning antibody levels and the Omicron variant, medical experts have called on the CDC to update its definition of “fully vaccinated” to describe those who have received a third dose.

BRL Picks

📄 Lost your documents? If you’re missing federal paperwork like a passport, social security card, IRS paperwork or Small Business Administration (SBA) documents after the fire, contact the office of Congressman Joe Neguse for expedited replacement: JoeNeguse@mail.house.gov / 303-345-1045.
👷‍♀️ Lost your job? The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment encourages anyone who has become unemployed as a direct result of the Marshall Fire, or those who are self-employed and had work interrupted, to file an unemployment insurance claim through MyUI+.
💡 Lost power? For those whose electricity was shut off due to the fires, Xcel Energy is working to restore power through nine regions. To find out which region your home is in, check out this map and get progress updates here.
🐶 Lost a pet? File a lost report with the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. “Be prepared to provide our staff with a detailed description of your animal, including where and when your animal was last seen, color of collar and type of tags.”
❤️ Need help? Gov. Jared Polis released a list of resources for fire victims. It includes information on accessing behavioral health services, insurance consulting, FEMA assistance, SBA assistance and more.
💧 Need water? Free drinking water will continue to be available at the Louisville Public Library (951 Spruce St.) and the Louisville Recreation & Senior Center (900 W. Via Appia Way) every day until potable water is restored. 

What We’re Reading

  • Where, exactly, did the Marshall Fire start? The picture is becoming clearer as the investigation ramps up. “Investigators narrowed the point of origin of the most destructive wildfire in state history to a neighborhood off Colorado 93 and Marshall Road near where a passerby captured video of a burning shed the morning the fire started, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Sunday.” [Denver Post]
  • BVSD update. Superintendent Rob Anderson shared an update yesterday regarding district operations following the wildfires. The major takeaways? School opens Wednesday as planned. Crews are “air scrubbing” buildings affected by smoke. Xcel has restored electricity, and natural gas is expected to be restored on Tuesday. Because of the boil water order, the district is bringing in bottled water. The food services team will be able to continue to serve students. Its carpool network can help students get to activities. “This is incredibly important knowing that schools – both in the area of the fire and outside – can serve a very important role of supporting students and their families following this large tragedy.” [BVSD]
  • Mapping the destruction. Reporting from the Colorado Sun maps the destroyed and damaged structures in the wake of the Marshall Fire, based on information provided by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. “Boulder County authorities on Saturday released a list of the addresses of the 991 properties destroyed and 127 damaged in the 6,000-acre fire. Here’s a breakdown of where the destruction happened.” [Colorado Sun]
  • Cause and effect. Nathan Schneider, a professor of media studies at CU Boulder, offers an impassioned plea for climate action in the aftermath of the Boulder County wildfires. “The fires still smoldering in my community are the result of an attack. The causes are human, regardless of how the first spark lit. They must be named and confronted, if we are ever to have a democracy capable of meeting its most basic responsibilities of protection and accountability.” [Nathan Schneider]

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Jezy J. Gray

I’m the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, I was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more. I look forward to listening to and learning from the Boulder community as we work together on telling the stories that matter here.