The Slatest

Three People Missing, Feared Dead After Devastating Colorado Wildfire

Businesses destroyed by the Marshall Fire in the town of Superior in Boulder County, Colorado are closed off with police tape on January 1, 2022.
Businesses destroyed by the Marshall Fire in the town of Superior in Boulder County, Colorado are closed off with police tape on January 1, 2022. JASON CONNOLLY/Getty Images

Officials had initially said there were no reports of fatalities in the devastating wind-stoked wildfire that devastated two towns in Boulder County, Colorado. But now there are fears that three people who are missing could have died in the fast-moving fire that injured at least seven people and destroyed almost 1,000 homes and other buildings. The much-needed snow that helped put out the fire is now hampering search efforts and officials said they would use dogs to search for victims. “Potentially there are human remains in those homes,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said. “It’s not even safe to step into the scene. We don’t know what’s underneath.”

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Investigators are now working to determine what started the fire. Initially the speculation was that the hurricane-force wind gusts that helped the fire spread at alarming speed had downed power lines. But officials say no downed power lines were found near where the fire broke out. It’s unusual for this type of wildfire to take place so late in the year but dry conditions and what had been until then a winter without snow helped it spread at an unusually fast speed and destroyed 6,000 acres in about two hours.

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The fire was “an alignment of many of the worst possible factors that firefighters fear,” Gov. Jared Polis said. But what turned out to be the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history may be a sign of things to come for the area as these types of fires are likely to become a lot more common due to climate change. “These fires are different from most of the fires we’ve been seeing across the West, in the sense that they’re grass fires and they’re occurring in the winter,” Jonathan Overpeck, a professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, tells the Associated Press. “Ultimately, things are going to continue to get worse unless we stop climate change.”

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The fire is now forcing Colorado residents to change their thinking on wildfires and realize that no part of the state is completely safe. The Colorado Sun explains:

The reminders looked like this: fire does not need a forest to move. It can travel through the air. The Colorado wildfire season isn’t a summer problem. During extended periods of drought, the threat of uncontrollable fire is an every-day-of-the-year affair. And the wildland-urban interface, that fire-prone line where the city meets wooded mountains, is not just tucked up canyons where fire trucks can’t reach.

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