Boulder County fires: No injuries reported as officials assess damage

December 31, 2021
211231-WILDFIRE211231-WILDFIREHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Burned homes in Superior, the morning after a raging wildfire whipped up by high winds tore through portions of Boulder County on Thursday, destroying hundreds of homes and other structures.

Updated at 3:08 p.m. on Jan. 1:

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said three people are confirmed missing after the Marshall fire and that authorities suspect they are dead. Read our latest update on the Boulder County fires here.


No casualties or deaths have been reported following Thursday's destructive grass fires that ripped through Boulder County. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle estimated more than 500 homes were destroyed.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it was 1,000," he said during a Friday morning news conference. Snow began falling in the area Friday morning though smoke remained heavy around Superior, Louisville and Flatiron Crossing. The smoke was thick enough to irritate throats and lungs, but unlike late Thursday night, active flames were not visible.

Some residents returned to their homes on Friday to assess the damage. Megha Suswaran said she and her family drove to a nearby hill and zoomed into their neighborhood in Superior on their phones to see if it was still intact. She said hers was, but others weren't so lucky.

"It took us a while to identify our roof. But two houses down," she said. "Their house was completely gone. I still can't believe this is all happening. It feels so unreal."

211231-POLIS-WILDFIRES-FLYOVERHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Aboard a Colorado National Guard helicopter, Gov. Jared Polis on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, gets a flyover tour of Boulder County neighborhoods destroyed by wildfires the previous day. He was accompanied by Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan, Adjutant General of Colorado, and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse also toured the area in a separate helicopter.

Louisville resident David McClalin said he's been checking local fire maps and thinks his home is outside the burn zone.

"I think it's gonna be OK," he said. "But there's not gonna be any power. There's not gonna be any drinkable water. So there's just not a whole lot of reason to go back there right now."

Official estimates of the damage are still coming in, though it is clear that hundreds of homes burned on Thursday in what could become the most destructive wildfires in terms of property damage in state history. The fire ignited a day before a winter storm is expected to dump snow along the Front Range for the first time this winter, and a day before Coloradans ring in the new year. Initial reports suggested a downed power line might have started the grass fire, but the Boulder Office of Emergency Management said Friday that Xcel's investigation found no downed lines in the area. The investigation is ongoing, the office wrote on its website.

211231-POLIS-WILDFIRES-FLYOVERHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Aboard a Colorado National Guard helicopter, Gov. Jared Polis on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, gets a flyover tour of Boulder County neighborhoods destroyed by wildfires the previous day. He was accompanied by Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan, Adjutant General of Colorado, and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse also toured the area in a separate helicopter.

"They did find some compromised communication lines that may have been misidentified as powerlines," the office wrote. "Typically, communications lines (telephone, cable, internet, etc.) would not be the cause of a fire."

The destruction was concentrated in several subdivisions on the west side of Superior, Pelle and other local officials said. Other heavily affected areas include old town Superior and the south side of Louisville. 

Gov. Jared Polis, speaking after a fly-over of the damage, said it appeared area hospitals and schools remained intact. 

“We might have our very own New Year’s miracle on our hands if it holds up that there was no loss of life,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people are evacuated from their homes. That includes Karen Jolasky and 9-year-old Ava, who spent the night at the FirstBank Center in Broomfield after leaving their family's apartment.

“I am very, very scared, because I have so many pictures of my great-grandma, and I left them all there,” Ava said Thursday night. “Why did I leave them? And I'm scared that the house is gonna burn down and then they'll have no place to go and everything will be ruined.”

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management asked that residents who evacuated not yet return to their homes. 

“We know that you are concerned about your home/belongings. First-responders are working nonstop to keep everyone safe, even as they don’t know the status of their own homes in the area,” the organization said on Twitter.

Inside the YMCA Arapahoe Center in Lafayette, volunteers piled donations of clothing and food on folding tables Friday morning. It’s one of many buildings operating as an emergency shelter. Dozens of evacuees slept on stairs and in offices and gathered in the building’s front lobby. 

Inside a cafeteria, local nurses and therapists tended to elderly and sick residents who were transported from their homes to the shelter during Thursday’s evacuation. Volunteers have been trying to secure short-term housing for residents, said Chris Coker, regional CEO for the YMCA. 

“The fire was so fast-moving that ambulances were dropping people who were very sick, immobile, bedridden at the Y because there was no room at hospitals, because they were also being evacuated,” Coker said. “It was scary. I thought people were going to die.”

Snow and colder temperatures are expected Friday. The National Weather Service forecasts 3 to 7 inches of snow in the Boulder area, with the heaviest snowfall at night. Temperatures should peak in the mid-30s, and winds are significantly slower than Thursday.

Evacuation orders for areas outside Boulder County were lifted late Thursday. Broomfield Police said just before midnight that residents there could return home. Westminster Police also tweeted that residents could go home.

This is a developing story and will continue to be updated as we learn more information.

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