Three people are missing and feared to have been killed by the Marshall fire, Boulder County’s sheriff said Saturday, contrary to officials’ earlier declarations that nobody was still unaccounted for in the wake of this week’s raging wildfire.
Currently, two people are missing in Superior and another is missing in the Marshall area, Sheriff Joe Pelle said at an afternoon news briefing. Each of their homes was lost to Thursday’s wind-driven wildfire, the sheriff said.
The search has been hampered by smoldering debris then snowfall, Pelle said. Sheriff’s officials plan to bring out cadaver dogs on Sunday, he added.
“Their homes are destroyed, potentially there are human remains in those homes,” Pelle said. “The debris is hot, it’s all fallen in and it’s now covered with eight inches of snow.”
Pelle also announced that preliminary tallies show 991 homes — 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior and 106 in unincorporated Boulder County — were destroyed by the fire, and 127 more were damaged. The Boulder Office of Emergency Management has posted a full list at boulderoem.com.
The cause of the 6,000-acre wildfire, the most damaging in Colorado history, remains under investigation, Pelle said. Investigators have found no evidence pointing to downed power lines as the fire’s spark, as first had been suspected, the sheriff said.
Acting on a tip, Pelle said, investigators have served a search warrant on a local property while probing the fire’s cause, but he wouldn’t say where or why. He also noted that investigators are examining video that has circulated on social media showing a barn on fire in southeast Boulder County.
Due to high winds, all outdoor burning was prohibited on the day of the fire.
“If it turns out to be arson or reckless behavior, we’ll take appropriate action,” Pelle said.
Initially, Boulder County officials had said nobody was missing in the wake of the fire, but those early reports were incorrect, said Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management, asking for “grace” after the error.
Many different agencies were working to extinguish hot spots, investigate the fire, keep people out of the evacuation area and more, she said, and the mixup stemmed from all those different people tackling everything at once.
“We thought we were at zero… but that was incorrect,” Churchill said Saturday morning. “Information is coming from multiple channels, we’re dealing with COVID… our communication channels were certainly stretched.”
Pelle lamented the potential loss of three lives, but gave thanks that fatalities weren’t much higher.
“We hope that within the next couple days we can help families and perhaps recover remains or confirm that they’re not there,” the sheriff said.
Additional information wasn’t immediately available on the missing people. But Hutch Armstrong told 9News that his grandmother-in-law, 91-year-old Nadine Turnbull, was among the missing. Family members weren’t able to help her out of her Original Town Superior home during the fire.
“They tried to go out the front door with the neighbor,” Armstrong told 9News. “It was engulfed. Checked the back door, it was engulfed.”
Boulder County officials on Saturday released a preliminary 23-page list of the homes and businesses destroyed or damaged. The fire tore through whole neighborhoods and the list includes home after home, in sequential order, along streets like St. Andrews Lane, Enclave Circle and Eldorado Lane.
The Element Hotel in Superior and Royalty Nails & Spa, Havana Motor and a Subway sandwich shop in Louisville were destroyed. Other businesses, including Target, Whole Foods and Chuck E. Cheese in Superior, were damaged.
Louisville police Chief Dave Hayes said some residents will be allowed to reenter the city. Pre-evacuation orders for the area are no longer in effect as of 1 p.m. Saturday, he said. Residents within the city’s “soft closure” area — Spyglass Circle, Saint Andrews Lane north of West Dillon Road, Augusta Drive, Pinehurst Court, and Club Circle and Place — will be allowed back in so long as they can present identification.
Those who do return are asked to travel only during daylight hours and to go directly home, Hayes said. They should also bring bottled water because much of the area’s water supply is now contaminated, he added.
But residents of the city’s “hard closure” area still cannot return, Hayes said. That area includes Fillmore Court, West Sandbar Circle, West Pinyon Way and more.
Evacuation areas in Superior and unincorporated Boulder County didn’t change on Saturday.