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Marshall Fire investigation reveals most destructive fire in Colorado history was composed of 2 fires

Marshall Fire: investigation reveals most destructive fire in Colo. history composed of 2 fires
Marshall Fire: investigation reveals most destructive fire in Colo. history composed of 2 fires 05:10

The Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Boulder County in December 2021. Now the Boulder County Sheriff's Office is giving an update on the cause of the most destructive fire in Colorado history. 

On Thursday morning, the Boulder County sheriff announced that the Marshall Fire was composed of two fires with two separate origins. 

Boulder County Sheriff Curtis Johnson CBS

"I can confidently say we know what happened and why," said Boulder County Sheriff Curtis Johnson. "The Marshall Fire was actually composed of two fires."

The first was started on a property at 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive six days before the Marshall Fire, on Dec. 24, which was composed of tree branches. A passerby saw that fire and called the authorities. Firefighters with Mountain View Fire determined that the fire was no longer burning at that time due to the covering of the fire with dirt and other measures taken to extinguish the fire. 

During the investigation into the Marshall Fire, investigators determined that that fire continued to smolder for days and the people who lived on the property tried to put out the fire once they realized it was still burning on Dec. 30. The fire was fueled by strong winds and continued to spread. 

About an hour later, a second fire started south of the Marshall Mesa Trailhead, ignited by hot particles discharged from an Xcel Energy power line. 

WATCH: Boulder County news conference on Marshall Fire cause and origin 50:16

"The two fires became one fire at some point but there is no way to determine when or where this occurred," said Johnson.

The district attorney said that no criminal charges will be filed in connection with the Marshall Fire investigation. 

"If I were to announce that charges were being filed today, it would be wrong and unethical," said 20th Judicial District Attorney Michael Dougherty. 

RELATED: Marshall Fire victim once again fights to stop foreclosure on his property

Two people died in that fire which burned 6,080 acres. Thirty-five thousand people were evacuated that day and thousands of animals, including pets, died in the fire. There was a high wind warning that day, with wind gusts reaching more than 100 mph in Boulder County. 

"There is no evidence that residents of 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive set a fire on Dec. 30," said Dougherty.  "An incredibly thorough investigation was conducted at that property."

On Dec. 24, Dougherty said the weather was wet, cool and rainy and that the residents didn't break any laws. The rules regarding extinguishing fires on private property have been updated to include more thorough measures. 

The following is the statement from Xcel Energy regarding today's news conference on the Marshall Fire: "Our thoughts are with the families and communities impacted by the devastating wildfire in Boulder County. We agree with the Boulder County Sheriff's Office report that the Marshall Fire started as a result of an ignition on a property (5325 Eldorado Springs Drive) previously reported to be affiliated with an entity called the Twelve Tribes, and that this ignition had nothing to do with Xcel Energy's powerlines. The Sheriff's report cites several potential causes for a second ignition near the Marshall Mesa Trailhead that started roughly an hour after the first fire. We believe the second fire burned into an area already burned by the fire from the first ignition, and did not cause damage to any homes or businesses. We strongly disagree with any suggestion that Xcel Energy's powerlines caused the second ignition, which according to the report started 80 to 110 feet away from Xcel Energy's powerlines in an area with underground coal fire activity. Xcel Energy did not have the opportunity to review and comment on the analyses relied on by the Sheriff's Office and believes those analyses are flawed and their conclusions are incorrect. We have reviewed our maintenance records and believe the system was properly maintained. We operate and maintain our electric system consistent with leading energy service practices and we're proud of our employees and the work they do to deliver safe, reliable and clean energy to our communities. As members of the Boulder community, we will continue to support our neighbors in this recovery."

RELATED: Lead attorney in Marshall Fire lawsuit: Xcel Energy "just doesn't want to accept responsibility"

Last month, Gov. Jared Polis signed nearly a dozen bills into law aimed at fire recovery and prevention. He lamented all the obstacles to rebuilding homeowners have faced.


"What a lot of people don't always realize is how long it takes," Polis said on May 16. "Here we are a year and five months, essentially, since the horrific fire and life has not returned to normal."

Polis says the new laws will help both current and future fire victims. They include first-of-its-kind legislation aimed at addressing under-insurance. It requires insurers to offer homeowners additional coverage for things like inflation and building code upgrades and requires the Colorado Division of Insurance to release an annual report that gives estimates of what it would cost to rebuild a home based on where it's located.

Only 8% of Marshall Fire victims had enough insurance to replace their homes.

In April, it was announced that FEMA approved $4.3 million in funding for the Marshall Fire recovery after the major disaster declaration issued on Dec. 31, 2021. The funding will cover 90% of the recovery project cost.   


The City of Louisville has already received $1.4 million from FEMA, to provide life, safety, and health support during the fire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Boulder County. That funding covered administrative support costs for the Emergency Operations Center, search and rescue operations, firefighting, and safety testing for the city's water supply.

FEMA has also disbursed $2.8 million to the Town of Superior. The Marshall Fire damaged Superior's reservoir which created a threat to the public. This funding allowed the restoration of the reservoir back to its pre-disaster design, function, and capacity.

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