BOULDER, Colo. — A year after the costliest and most devastating fire in Colorado’s history, the investigation into what started the Marshall Fire is nearly complete.
In an interview with Denver7 Investigates, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said the findings should come out in the next few weeks. The sheriff’s office is leading the investigation.
Investigators conducted hundreds of interviews and pored over thousands of images of the fire that burned more than 6,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 structures.
“I think we’re very close to having a final product,” Pelle said.
He said the report will likely show that the fire had more than one ignition point. Criminal charges are also a possibility, as the investigation was referred to the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office.
“I believe we’re going to have more than one cause or more than one ignition point,” Pelle said. “I mean, the cause of the calamity, the cause of the Marshall Fire, the scope of it is 100 mile-per-hour winds and severe drought. The question is what were the ignition points? And that’s what we’re trying to answer right now.”
The year-long investigation is something that Pelle said is not uncommon for an event of this magnitude. He pointed to the East Troublesome Fire investigation, of which findings were recently released roughly two years after the incident.
“There are so many potential causes,” Pelle said. “They all have to be investigated and eliminated.”
In the hours after the fire started, Pelle had stated that the cause was due to downed power lines, but he later backed off those claims. He told Denver7 Investigates he was listening to fire units on the radio advising that there were power lines on the ground.
“I assumed that that was a likely cause, given the wind conditions, that it wouldn’t be unusual,” Pelle said. “However, after getting more information, hearing about the shed fire, seeing the video, we had to say, ‘Wait a minute, we need to take a look at this at a landscape level.’”
In addition to determining the cause of the fire, Pelle said his office is looking at the recovery from the fire and what the department can do better in the next incident.
“That’s really been our focus for the last year. The investigation has been important, but it’s secondary to being ready for the next one,” Pelle said.
Recently released body camera footage showed what Pelle’s deputies saw that day and what lengths they went to ensure no one was left behind. The sheriff called the efforts “heroic” and said some were injured while assisting to get people and animals out of harm’s way.
“The fact that only two people lost their lives is miraculous and speaks to the heroism that was, you know, performed that day,” he said.
When the report comes out, Pelle said he hopes it is something that will withstand the rigors and questions that could follow.
“(I hope) that it’s thorough, that it’s accurate, that it will stand the challenges of litigation and that kind of thing,” he said.