Marshall Fire

Coordinates: 40°05′N 105°22′W / 40.09°N 105.36°W / 40.09; -105.36
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Marshall Fire
Colorado wildfires.jpg
Satellite view of the wildfire near Boulder, Colorado, quickly spreading into nearby homes
LocationBoulder County, Colorado, in the towns of Superior and Louisville
Coordinates40°05′N 105°22′W / 40.09°N 105.36°W / 40.09; -105.36
Date(s)December 30, 2021–January 1, 2022 (2 days)
Burned area6,026 acres (24.4 km2)
Buildings destroyed1,084
Non-fatal injuries6+[2]

The Marshall Fire was a destructive wildfire and urban conflagration that started on December 30, 2021, shortly after 11:00 a.m. MST,[3] as a grass fire in Boulder County, Colorado.[4] The fire killed two people and became the most destructive fire in Colorado history in terms of buildings destroyed.[5]

Background factors[edit]

An unusually wet spring with above average growth of grass due to moist conditions, followed by an unusually warm and dry summer and fall, created abundant dry grass. This, combined with the lack of snow so far that winter, created ideal weather conditions for wildfires.[6][7][8][9]

Additionally, high winds were recorded in the area, with gusts of up to 115 miles per hour. The winds were driven by the mountain wave effect, and allowed for rapid spread of the fire.[10] Effects of the high winds were also observed on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, where downed branches and trees were reported.[11]


On January 2, 2022, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle reported that fire investigators identified a neighborhood by State Highway 93 and Marshall Road as the general area containing the origin of the fire, but had not yet determined an exact origin or cause.[12] The Boulder County Sheriff's Office also confirmed that deputies had received tips and executed a search warrant regarding the source of the fire.[13][14]

The cause of the fire remains pending investigation.[15] However, an incident report filed by a ranger with Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks identified two potential ignition points for the fire. The first potential ignition point was a shed at Highway 93 and 170 that began to burn at approximately 11:20AM MST, 30 December 2021.[16] The shed was owned by Twelve Tribes, a controversial religious organization.[17] In the days preceding the fire, Mountain View Fire and Rescue responded to a call to that property after a passerby reported a trash or grass fire.[18]

The second potential ignition point was upwind from the first, and started around noon of the same day on "western side of the Marshall Mesa trailhead."[19] Three weeks after the fire, underground fires in abandoned coal mines emerged as one possible source for the Marshall Mesa trailhead location.[20][21][needs update]Months later, further investigation confirmed that there were two ignition sources for the fire that were a third of a mile and 40 minutes apart.[22][23]

Fire progression[edit]

Large plumes of smoke are visible over Superior around 2:00 PM MST on December 30. View from State Highway 128, looking north.

The Marshall Fire was first reported to 911 on 30 December 2021 at the intersection of Colorado 93 and Marshall Road at 11:09 AM.[24] The first firefighting unit, Mountain View Fire and Rescue engine 2209, arrived on scene at 11:12 AM. Boulder Open Space Ranger 5077 was already there. No fire was evident when they arrived, but a low hanging wire obstructed Marshall Road. Together, they closed Marshall Road. Then seeing smoke, Engine 2209 moved south along a dirt road and discovered a small grass fire at 11:21 AM. Once the fire location was identified by the unit, high winds started to rapidly spread the fire. Three minutes after finding the fire, it was determined out of control and additional units were called to assist. At 11:44 the commander on site ordered the evacuation of residents 2 miles downwind of the fire. By noon the fire had reached the town of Superior, three miles to the east, prompting the evacuation of stores there.[25] Within another hour evacuations had been ordered for tens of thousands of people starting with the town of Superior and later the cities of Louisville, portions of Broomfield, and unincorporated Boulder County.[2][26] Other portions of Broomfield, along with portions of Lafayette, Arvada, and Westminster were issued pre-evacuation orders.[27]

Wind gusts of 115 miles per hour (185 km/h) were reported,[28] and the fire extent was an estimated 1,600 acres (650 ha) by 5:00 p.m. and had increased to 6,200 acres (2,500 ha) by 10:00 a.m. on December 31.[11]

On the night of December 31 – January 1, heavy snowfall put an end to the fire.[29]


In response to the fires, Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency around 3:15 p.m. MST on the day of the outbreak and ordered a ground delay at Denver International Airport.[2][3] U.S. president Joe Biden responded to the fire by permitting the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist.[6] For those affected by the fires, Colorado Chamber President and CEO Loren Furman announced that the Colorado Chamber was united to help members and all local businesses and residents impacted by the fire. The Northwest Chamber Alliance created a website that centralized resources for businesses for federal and state aid, local resources, and donation information.[30]


Eight burn injuries were confirmed in Boulder County.[11][2] [31] One person was identified as killed while another is missing and presumed dead.[32][33][34] Over 1,000 pets are estimated to have perished, as well as two horses, two goats and nine cows. Even though much of the land burned was grazing land, rescuers saved hundreds of other livestock.[35]

Evacuations and closures[edit]

Over thirty-seven thousand five hundred residents, employees and shoppers safely evacuated. Ten evacuation notices were posted by Boulder County during the event.[36] The Colorado Department of Transportation closed multiple lanes and roadways as a result of crashes and the fires themselves; U.S. Route 36 was closed in both directions from Boulder to Broomfield and a portion of Colorado State Highway 470 was closed entirely near Morrison.[11] Safety warnings were also issued for travelers on a stretch of Interstate 70 between Golden and Georgetown and Colorado State Highway 93 was temporarily closed for 40 minutes in the late morning.[11]


An estimated 1084 structures, including houses, a hotel and at least one shopping center, burned as a result of the Marshall Fire, and another 149 were damaged.[37][38] Less than 12 hours after igniting, the fire surpassed the 2013 Black Forest Fire as the state's most destructive in terms of structures lost. Later estimates place the total damage surpassing $2 billion.[39]

Public drinking water systems[edit]

The fire damaged six public drinking water systems in the area. A case study was developed to better understand decisions, resources, expertise, and response limitations during and after the wildfire.[40] The fire caused all water systems to lose power and was sometimes coupled with structure destruction, distribution depressurization, and the failure of backup power systems. These consequences jeopardized fire-fighting support and allowed for contamination of water distribution systems. Staff decontaminated and restored services, with actions taken to improve response to future events.


Media related to Marshall Fire at Wikimedia Commons

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "More than 100 homes destroyed in Marshall Fire valued at over 500 million". KDVR. January 7, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d "As many as 600 homes lost, 6 people injured as Marshall fire quickly spreads across Boulder County". The Colorado Sun. Boulder, Colorado. December 30, 2021. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Colorado brushfires lead to evacuations; state of emergency declared". FOX10 Phoenix. December 30, 2021. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  4. ^ "CU President and officials give update on Marshall and Middle Fork fires". CU Independent. December 31, 2021.
  5. ^ "Marshall fire officially becomes Colorado's most destructive, with 991 homes and businesses burned, officials confirm". January 1, 2022. Retrieved March 31, 2022.
  6. ^ a b "President Joe Biden Approves FEMA After Colorado Wildfires, 3 Presumed Dead". The Blast. January 2, 2022. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  7. ^ "Climate change, new construction mean more ruinous fires". RochesterFirst. January 2, 2022. Retrieved January 3, 2022.
  8. ^ Bellisle, Martha (January 2, 2022). "Climate change, new construction mean more ruinous fires". AP News. Archived from the original on January 2, 2022. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  9. ^ Hern, Elizabeth; Ehern, Ez | (December 31, 2021). "Marshall fire may have destroyed 1,000 homes in Boulder County, officials say". The Denver Post. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  10. ^ Stein, Lee (December 31, 2021). "Marshall fire explained: How we got 115 mph winds in Boulder County on a December winter day". The Denver Post.
  11. ^ a b c d e Hassan, Carma; Andes, Natalie (December 31, 2021). "Marshall Fire grew to 6,200 acres overnight, official says". CNN. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  12. ^ "Boulder County investigators narrow Marshall fire's origin to single neighborhood". January 2, 2022. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  13. ^ Peterson, Brittany; Garcia, Eugene (January 2, 2022). "Officials: Nearly 1K structures destroyed in Colorado fire". AP News. Archived from the original on January 1, 2022. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  14. ^ Sallinger, Marc (January 1, 2022). "Deputies execute search warrant in investigation of Marshall Fire". 9News. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  15. ^ "Colorado Wildfires Burn Hundreds of Homes, Force Evacuations". December 30, 2021.
  16. ^ Dorfman, Colie (June 29, 2022). "Twelve Tribes under scrutiny in Marshall Fire investigation". Retrieved August 30, 2022.
  17. ^ "Religious group's land tied to Marshall Fire investigation, sheriff says". January 4, 2022. Retrieved August 30, 2022.
  18. ^ "Firefighters called to Twelve Tribes property 6 days before deadly Marshall Fire". January 11, 2022. Retrieved August 30, 2022.
  19. ^ "Videos show Marshall Fire started by 2 separate ignition points less than a mile apart". March 7, 2021. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
  20. ^ "Marshall Fire investigators look at underground coal mines as possible cause". FOX31 Denver. January 22, 2022. Archived from the original on January 22, 2022. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  21. ^ "Underground coal fire being investigated as a potential source of ignition in fast-moving, destructive Marshall Fire". January 21, 2011. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  22. ^ "Marshall Fire". Retrieved April 10, 2023.
  23. ^ "Investigation into Marshall Fire shows multiple ignition points, sheriff says". December 28, 2022.
  24. ^ "Marshall Fire Facilitated Learning Analysis". October 27, 2022.
  25. ^ "The minute-by-minute story of the Marshall fire's wind-fueled tear through Boulder County". The Colorado Sun. January 6, 2022. Retrieved January 7, 2022.
  26. ^ "WATCH LIVE: Entire towns of Superior and Louisville ordered to evacuate due to multiple grass fires". KUSA (TV). December 30, 2021. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  27. ^ Powell, Erin (December 30, 2021). "Polis declares state of emergency for Boulder fires". NBC 9 News. Retrieved December 30, 2021.
  28. ^ "Tens of thousands of residents in Colorado told to evacuate due to wildfires driven by wind gusts as high as 115 mph". CNN. December 30, 2021. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  29. ^ Sullivan, Becky (January 1, 2022). "Snow puts out Colorado wildfires with 3 people missing and nearly 1,000 homes burned". NPR. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
  30. ^ "Colorado Chamber supports local businesses impacted by Marshall, Middle Fork Fire". FOX21 News Colorado. January 4, 2022. Retrieved January 6, 2022.
  31. ^ Bradbury, Shelly (January 2, 2022). "One of three people missing after Marshall fire is found alive". The Denver Post.
  32. ^ Case, Angela (January 5, 2022). "Remains found in search for person missing in Marshall Fire". Retrieved January 6, 2022.
  33. ^ "Marshall Fire victim identified as 69-year-old man". January 7, 2022.
  34. ^ "Identity of final person missing from Marshall fire confirmed as investigators uncover bone fragments". January 22, 2022. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
  35. ^ "Marshall Fire Facilitated Learning Analysis". October 27, 2022.
  36. ^ "Emergency Notifications from Boulder County Communications" (PDF).
  37. ^ "Boulder County releases updated list of structures damaged and destroyed in the Marshall Fire". Boulder County. Retrieved January 9, 2022.
  38. ^ "Boulder County Sheriff releases preliminary list of structures damaged in the Marshall Fire". Boulder County Colorado.
  39. ^ "Marshall Fire devastation cost: More than $2 billion". October 27, 2022.
  40. ^ Whelton, Andrew J.; Seidel, Chad; Wham, Brad P.; Fischer, Erica C.; Isaacson, Kristofer; Jankowski, Caroline; MacArthur, Nathan; McKenna, Elizabeth; Ley, Christian (January 2023). "The Marshall Fire: Scientific and policy needs for water system disaster response". AWWA Water Science. doi:10.1002/aws2.1318. Retrieved April 7, 2023.