Boulder County fires: One of the three missing victims is found alive, 2 still unaccounted for; FBI is investigating cause of fire

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A neighborhood flattened by fire.

Updated at 7:20 p.m.

Two people are still missing from Thursday's Marshall Fire. However in a moment of good news, a third missing person from Louisville was found "alive and well," officials announced at a press conference Sunday.

The two people who remain unaccounted for are a woman from Superior and a man from outside Marshall. So far no deaths have been reported in a fire that destroyed nearly 1,000 homes and left thousands of people scrambling to evacuate.

Gov. Jared Polis told reporters on Sunday that the FBI is investigating the cause of Thursday's fires.

"If there was any form of deliberate or accidental arson, I fully expect that any of those responsible will be held fully responsible under the law for the utter devastation that was caused," Polis said.

The origin of the fires are still unknown. Authorities said they’ve received several tips about the potential cause, and a search warrant was executed by the Boulder County Sheriff at an unnamed property. However, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle would not give any further details of the investigation. 

“It is an open and active investigation, and we're bringing in the best people we can bring in to help us determine the origin and cause of this fire,” Pelle said.

Investigators said they are looking into a barn fire that was caught on video burning early in the day Thursday off Colorado 93 at South Foothills Highway. Pelle would not confirm whether it was the cause or related to the cause. 

“We don't know that that shed or anything around it was the actual start of the fire or whether it was secondary, and it's complicated and it's all covered with a foot of snow today. So we will sort it out," Pelle said. "The outcome of that investigation is vital. There's so much at stake. We're gonna be careful. We're gonna be professional. We're gonna bring in the best people in the country. We're gonna do this right And we're not gonna rush.” 

Pelle said he believes the burning barn was in an early area of the fire.

“Well, it's pretty obvious when you drive through or see the video people posted online,” Pelle said. “I was there this morning. And I'm not a trained fire investigator. It's really obvious where that fire started and what direction it went in.” 

Officials have ruled out downed power lines as a potential cause of the Marshall fire specifically, contradicting early reports that power lines and transformers were responsible for the blaze.

As of Saturday afternoon, approximately 991 homes and other structures in Louisville, Superior and Marshall were confirmed destroyed and 127 were damaged, in a fire that engulfed 6,219 acres.  

Federal Emergency Management Agency  Administrator Deanne Criswell Tours Marshall Fire Burn Area
From left: U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis talk during a tour of the Marshall Fire burn area in Louisville on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. The current estimate of destroyed structures is 991, while 127 structures are damaged, according to Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. (Matthew Jonas/Boulder Daily Camera/Pool)

FEMA toured the devastation Sunday, set up "one-stop shop" for residents needing resources

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell visited Boulder County today to assess the damage caused by the Marshal and Middle Fork fires.

"The first line for everyone is to go through their insurance company," said Criswell, "but we know that insurance may not cover all of the losses that you have. And so if you have not already, you can register for assistance."

At a Sunday press conference, officials announced the creation of a Disaster Assistance Center that will open on Monday, Jan. 3. Officials are calling it a "one-stop shop" for assistance. Services will include financial, food and filing property loss claims assistance. There will also be mental health support and transportation.

"We've set up a unified assistance center, meaning this is a place you can go that has the insurers, FEMA, SBA, nonprofit help relief agencies," Polis said.

The center will be open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

Meanwhile, areas in Superior and Louisville are still closed to residents. Parts of the two towns are in soft closure areas, which means only people with proof of residence are allowed in as some returned on Saturday. 

A map of hard and soft closure areas can be found here.

Police have set up barricades and patrols to prevent scavenging and looting. Residents should expect to present a valid ID in order to return to their residences. 

“What we have frequently after fires are scavengers. People looking for metal, all the plastic gets burnt off the copper wire, that kind of thing,” Pelle said, “That's what we've experienced in the past. We haven't experienced actual looting in Boulder County."