‘What was important was life’: Marshall fire evacuee recalls losing his house, and being saved by the community

220102-WILDFIRE-AFTERMATH-BOVEN220102-WILDFIRE-AFTERMATH-BOVENEli Imadali for CPR News
Larry Boven comforts his wife, Mary, in their car Jan. 2, 2022, as they sit across the street from the remains of their Louisville home of almost 30 years, which burned down in the Marshall fire.

Larry Boven was at home in Louisville, Colo., when he realized the intensity of the Marshall fire growing around him last week. The winds gusted in the area at more than 100 miles an hour. 

“I just was holding out hope against hope that maybe somehow my house would be saved. And yet at the same time, I almost, I felt that sense of ‘this is it,’” he said Sunday.

Soon he couldn’t hold out any longer. He could barely see anything through the smoke. He helped his wife, Mary, into the car, along with their dog and their neighbor’s dog. The dogs were like a shared family: Boven and their neighbor had previously cut a hole in the fence to let the dogs go back and forth.

“We just got into the car, and we pulled out of the driveway, and the smoke was so intense at that point that I could not even see anything,” he said. The ash was so thick, Boven used the windshield wipers to clear it. “I was worried I was going to run into somebody.”

The Bovens didn’t take the time to grab anything beyond themselves.

220102-WILDFIRE-AFTERMATH-BOVENEli Imadali for CPR News
Larry Boven looks at the remains of he and his wife’s destroyed Louisville home of almost 30 years on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022.

“I just was more concerned about lives than I was about property. And I know that it would've been nice to have maybe picked up some of our pictures or some personal items that we can't ever replace, but for whatever reason, I just decided that wasn't important. What was important was life,” he said.

They evacuated along with tens of thousands of others, including residents of two entire cities, Louisville and Superior. Some waited for days to find out if their homes had been destroyed. Boven learned early on that his was gone: one of nearly 1,000 homes that burned in the Marshall fire on December 30. 

But now, just days later, the Bovens feel fortunate. They have a temporary place to live thanks to their community.

On Sunday, the Bovens moved into Edgewater building of the Highlands United Methodist Church as a little apartment inside was being set up for them. The leader of their own church 18 miles to the north, Rev. Claire McNulty Drewes, set up this arrangement because Mary Boven has a medical condition that requires handicap access, and for which a bathroom, shower and their own living space is important.

220102-WILDFIRE-AFTERMATH-BOVENEli Imadali for CPR News
Mary and Larry Boven sit for a portrait in their temporary apartment at the Edgewater building of Highlands United Methodist Church on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022.
220102-WILDFIRE-AFTERMATH-BOVENEli Imadali for CPR News
A box of donated items welcomes Larry and Mary Boven to a temporary apartment at the Edgewater building of Highlands United Methodist Church.

Larry Boven said when he got the call from the reverend he felt overwhelmed.

“I mean, it's just amazing the outpouring of generosity from this community, who don't even know us from anyone, except just that we've had a tremendous loss.”

But the Bovens are not alone in needing help. Larry said nearly every house on their block burned. Only one still stands.

“One house on the right, just as you're coming up the street on the right hand side. And I think I'll remember that too, forever: that to think that one house was spared and all the rest were leveled literally to the ground. The only thing in some cases was maybe an arch,” he said.

After they got acquainted with the apartment at the church on Sunday, the Bovens went back to their Louisville neighborhood to see their property and walk on their street for the first time since the fire. They saw some concrete foundation. One tree appeared to have survived. The smell of smoke still hung in the air.

“I’m angry it happened,” Mary said.

220102-WILDFIRE-AFTERMATH-BOVENEli Imadali for CPR News
Mary Boven reflects on memories and things lost in the fire while sitting their new temporary apartment at the Edgewater building of Highlands United Methodist Church.
220102-WILDFIRE-AFTERMATH-BOVENEli Imadali for CPR News
Larry Boven talks on the phone with Rev. Bradley Laurvick, who gave them temporary housing at the Edgewater building of Highlands United Methodist Church, alongside his wife, Mary, and son, Joe.

“This represents a lifetime of things that our family cherished. We’ve got memories in that house of all the things we did with the kids, all the holidays,” Larry said. They lost vintage dolls Mary had kept for decades, and historical letters and photographs. “Those are things we will never forget, but we won’t have the objects of those memories anymore.”

This house was supposed to be a “forever home.”

“I felt very safe, very secure in Louisville,” he said, since neighbors, police and firefighters have been helpful and supportive as Mary has struggled with a form of multiple sclerosis.

“Even local businesses took Mary kind of in under their wing, and were concerned about her whenever she might lose her car, she couldn't find her car. The police department would help her find her car downtown.”

220102-WILDFIRE-AFTERMATH-BOVENEli Imadali for CPR News
Rev. Bradley Laurvick, center, and his son, Joey, right, discuss items needed with Larry Boven, left, and his son, Joe, in the Bovens' temporary apartment.
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Larry Boven sits for a portrait at the Edgewater building of Highlands United Methodist Church.

That kind of community doesn’t come around easily. So as the Bovens looked at the pile of rubble that remained on Sunday, they vowed to rebuild.

In the meantime, as they try to figure out their own next steps, Larry Boven said they are thinking and praying for others in the community. 

“I've called so many people that I know of in Louisville, that their homes were affected, where they lost it all. So a lot of my prayers are around how can, even though I've lost everything, how can I reach out and help them?”

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