Hart Van Denburg/CPR News On Dec. 28, 2022, from the same vantage point overlooking Superior on 120th Avenue, it's possible to see some of the neighborhoods that burned and are in the midst of rebuilding, including the brown construction site above, center left.
The wind along the Colorado foothills on Dec. 30, 2021, had the force of a hurricane.
Gusts measured around the 100 mph mark — strong enough to flip a couple of semi-trailers crossing the Macintyre Street bridge over Highway 58 east of Golden. Strong enough to whip a grass fire south of Boulder into the Marshall fire, drive it at breakneck speed across the western parts of Boulder County, Superior and Louisville as night fell, and turn it into the most destructive wildfire the state has ever witnessed.
More than a thousand homes were destroyed, along with a hotel and a shopping center. One person died, and another remains missing and presumed dead.
I covered the fire, and weeks and months of recovery. Recently I returned to some of the neighborhoods where I documented the original devastation. Here are photos of those places then and now.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News On New Year's Eve 2021, the morning after the Marshall fire tore through Boulder County, Gov. Jared Polis, members of Congress and the state Legislature, and state and local law enforcement got a look at the devastation — entire neighborhoods burned to the ground. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News Gov. Jared Polis, at right, Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan, Adjutant General of Colorado, and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, at left, on New Year's Eve 2021 in the governor's helicopter as it flies over the devastation left by the Marshall fire the day before. The flag was still there Hart Van Denburg/CPR News In the older, original part of Superior on Dec. 30, 2021, an American flag stands at half staff on property of former Boulder firefighter Gil Espinoza. While Espinoza was in Denver the day the fire swept through his community, neighbors kicked down Espinoza’s door and rescued his German shepherd, Chief. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News The American flag still stands in the same spot in Superior a year later, looking a little worse for wear and tear, on Dec. 29, 2022. The mailbox, and the ornamental frog now buried in snow lower left, also remain in place. The homes that burned down have been completely removed, revealing other homes and the Flatirons in the distance. Wayne Shelnutt's place Hart Van Denburg/CPR News Wayne Shelnutt stands on the burned remains of his home on Mohawk Circle in the Sagamore subdivision of Superior, a neighborhood where every home burned to the ground, on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. He, his daughter and his 7-months-pregnant wife had only minutes to evacuate. “All of our houses are basically just made out of wood and sticks. And, unfortunately, they were all so close together, they probably did fall like a little intricate domino set,” he said. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News The same corner where Wayne Shelnutt and his family used to live is, like the rest of Sagamore, buried under fresh snow on Dec. 29, 2022. Numerous homes are being rebuilt in the neighborhood, but while the remains of homes have been removed, construction work has yet to start on this property. The fire hydrant and the car skeleton Hart Van Denburg/CPR News Residents of Superior’s Sagamore subdivision, on the city’s western edge, were among the first neighborhoods to report houses burning during the Marshall fire according to first responder radio traffic. Photographed a week later, on Jan. 7, no homes were standing and the burned out skeletons of automobiles were everywhere. In the foreground, a fire hydrant — the fire storm moved so quickly that firefighters barely had time to get themselves to safety in many situations. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News The same Sagamore corner, with the same fire hydrant now buried in snow, offers a view — of new home construction rather than burned off homes and cars — on Dec. 29, 2022. The foothills visible after catastrophe Hart Van Denburg/CPR News Walking past leveled homes and car skeletons in Sagamore on Jan. 7. Had one stood in this same spot a little more than a week before, subdivision homes and trees would have obscured the now-visible foothills above Boulder. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News In this Dec. 29, 2022, photo taken from roughly the same location as the photo above, workers get ready to pour concrete for a new home's foundation in Superior's Sagamore neighborhood. Two sides of Eldorado Drive Hart Van Denburg/CPR News There was a section of Eldorado Drive in Superior, photographed here on Jan. 3, where the startlingly unpredictable nature of the Marshall fire, combined with the efforts of firefighters, meant that homes on one side of the street — the southwest facing side overlooking greenway and footpath — were destroyed, while homes across the street endured little visible damage. Smoke damage was a very real issue for many, however. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News On Eldorado Drive on Dec. 28, 2022, a charred mailbox post offers a reminder of the Marshall fire's devastation. Right across the street: one of numerous homes that suffered no visible damage from the Dec. 30, 2021 fire. The fire came, then it snowed, and then the work began Hart Van Denburg/CPR News The Marshall fire left little standing in this neighborhood north of the Louisville Recreation Center and south of Harper Lake, photographed here on New Year's Eve, 2021, the evening after the fire swept through. Police from jurisdictions all over Colorado moved in quickly to lock down the perimeter of the burn scar for security and safety concerns, but it was still possible to walk into some neighborhoods for a glimpse of the devastation — an entire community destroyed. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News This photo was made on Dec. 28, 2022, standing in the same spot as the photo above, with a new home rising in the place of ashes and a burned-out car. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News Another look at the destroyed community south of Harper Lake in Louisville on New Year's Eve, 2021, as snow began to fall. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News Josh Engel in his car outside the home he's having rebuilt in the Louisville neighborhood south of Harper Lake, on Dec. 28, 2022. A year after the Marshall fire, he says he's nearing the end of negotiations with his insurance company. A destroyed neighborhood begins to transform Hart Van Denburg/CPR News Homes in Louisville on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, after they were destroyed by the Marshall fire. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News In the same neighborhood on Dec. 28, 2022, there is now a blank slate upon which construction crews are rebuilding homes. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News On a cul-de-sac in Louisville on New Year's Eve. 2021, the day after the Marshall fire, a basketball hoop with a melted backboard was emblematic of life suddenly interrupted by the blaze. Walking this neighborhood, I could see the remains of plant pots, outdoor holiday lights, yard toys, grills, trampolines — and ashes where there should have been mail in mailboxes. And silence. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News All that remains of the home with the basketball hoop on Dec. 28, 2022, is a cavity in the ground awaiting developers. Behind, a new home rises from the ashes. Come home Hart Van Denburg/CPR News The remains of a washer and dryer at a home in Louisville on Jan. 3, 2022, after it was destroyed by the Marshall fire. Washing machines, kitchen stoves, water heaters, tools and other objects that couldn't burn or melt littered the landscape in seemingly random ways; you realized that homes had simply burned down all around them, leaving them stranded. Hart Van Denburg/CPR News A new home rises in Louisville, photographed here on Dec. 28, 2022. And a sign: Come home.