Meet the first homeowner to rebuild and move back after the Marshall fire

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Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Jessica Carson stands in front of her brand-new home, built after her old home burned in the Marshall Fire, in Louisville, Colorado on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022.

The night her home burned in the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history, Jessica Carson of Louisville committed to rebuilding.

“I didn’t see any other choice,” Carson said. “I love Louisville. I want to stay in Louisville. With the shortage in homes after the fire, finding another home was going to be very challenging … It was sit down and cry, or just move forward.”

Carson found a builder the night of the fire — Dec. 30, 2021 — and met with an architect within a week. Construction was underway by June. 

“I asked them probably the week after we broke ground if Christmas was even possible,” she said of her builders. “They kind of laughed at me.”

The builders beat Carson’s Christmas deadline by more than a week. On Friday, Carson will become the first homeowner who survived the Marshall fire to move into a rebuilt home after city officials grant her a certificate of occupancy.

“It's exciting,” Carson said earlier this week. “It's been a year. And I’m not quite sure how we got here. But we worked with a lot of great people and they've been so kind and generous and responsive. The community's just been amazing.”

Carson and her architect designed a few changes in the new house, including a bigger home office, and a master suite with mountain views and a walk-in closet. Other fire victims are going for more radical rebuilds, including one couple that’s using fire-resistant earthen blocks. Some are trying to rebuild to stricter climate-minded building codes, even though Louisville officials waived those for residents rebuilding after the fire.

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Jessica Carson's brand-new home in Louisville, Colorado is currently neighbored by dirt piles and construction sites for other homes on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. Hundreds of homes in this Louisville neighborhood burned in the Marshall Fire in December 2021.

While some homeowners displaced by the fire have put their lots on the market, many others are on the path to recovery. Between the three affected jurisdictions — Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County — some 1,100 structures burned, mostly homes. 

The wildfire, worsened by climate change and fanned by 100 mph winds, generated more than $2 billion in insurance claims. After months of cleanup, most lots are now cleared. Nearly 250 permits for rebuilding have been issued, data show.

Still, rebuilding is “going to take years,” a Boulder County official told CPR News in June.

Just two certificates of occupancy have been granted so far: The Target store in Superior and Carson’s home in Louisville. Dozens of homes are under construction in Carson’s neighborhood, though. 

“I feel like the community's feeling a little bit better,” said David Wood of Wood Brothers Homes, the contractor building Carson’s home and more than a dozen others in the area. “Just seeing more houses being done has lifted spirits of some people for sure.”

One of those people is Carson’s friend, Heather Szucs, who lives on the same cul-de-sac.

“I'm so excited for her,” Szucs said of Carson’s new home. “I am really, really proud of how hard she's worked to get here. She's a single mom of two kids and hasn't stopped working. I don't know how she's doing it. She must not sleep. She's a powerhouse.”

Szucs’ own home is slowly moving toward reality, too. A foundation for her new home is in place, and walls should go up later this month. 

Still, Szucs said this year has been the hardest of her life. But Carson’s now-finished home being so close helps her visualize her own goal. 

“I feel like I can see the big picture and it feels cozy and warm.” she said. “I don't even know how to explain it. It feels like forever from now that it's actually gonna happen. But it also — I can see it.”

Szucs says her friend’s house is like a lighthouse, guiding her through the storm. But she hopes that someday soon, it’s just a house — a place where she can visit with her friend, and the hard year is nothing more than a memory.

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Construction materials for a neighbor's house are visible near Jessica Carson's brand-new home in Louisville, Colorado on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022.