Of the stories untold on the one-year anniversary of the Marshall Fire, one of the most up-close perspectives comes from three firefighters from Mountain View Fire Rescue.
That day, they fought hurricane-force winds that fueled an inferno, doing all they could to defend their community from what they thought could never happen.
And despite small glimpses of rebuilding, it’s still surreal a year later.
"I mean, just coming back to the station, driving through Superior and looking at all the damage and all the houses — they're starting to be rebuilt, but yet all of that area... there's no longer anything there,” said Mountain View Fire Capt. Dean Street. "It's just a surreal feeling every time you drive through. You just still can't imagine what we saw. The work that everybody did.”
What Street, Division Chief Paul Johnson and engineer Lee Brown did was save what they could while up against unimaginable winds and incredible odds the night of the Marshall Fire.
“So much smoke and ash and soot,” Johnson remembered.
“Truly rip doors off the hinges of the vehicles,” Street added.
Some firefighters were working to defend hundreds of houses in Boulder County while not knowing the state of their own homes.
“So many of our firefighters there lived in that community. I thought it would never happen here. You know, ever. And it did,” Street said.
A year later, the memories of Dec. 31, 2021 are still fresh.
“It's a level of intensity that it's just hard to describe. You could feel the heat. You could hear the fire and you couldn't see it," Johnson said.
“That whole event was a different level of stress,” Brown said.
But these veteran firefighters and countless others kept going, kept fighting, in some cases, having to pass up homes that were on fire to get to others they felt they had a chance to save.
And then came another almost unimaginable assignment of having to evacuate an entire hospital and partially evacuate another because of smoke and ash.
“Even though they shut down their air handlers, it was inundating the hospital,” Johnson said.
"'What do you mean you evacuated this? How do you evacuate a hospital?' Well, they did it," Street said.
At one point during that ominous night, power was shut down to two entire cities and both Superior and Louisville ran out of water.
To Johnson, that shows the overwhelming intensity of the Marshall Fire fight.
“I mean, we used all the water in the system. Props to Superior and Louisville water (departments) because they dumped a whole lake... raw water into their water system to help support us,” he said.
Firefighters even had to take drinks out of people's refrigerators and dump them around the houses to create a barrier.
“They went into people's fridges and took beer and put out people's porches with their own beer. I swear to God,” another firefighter shared during Denver7’s interview.
“Just to wet it down enough and, you know, raise the humidity and just enough to buy a minute or two,” Johnson laughed. “You know, it's just one thing after the other, after the other. And just hard to get ahead of it.”
Work for Mountain View Fire Rescue never seems to end. During the Denver7 interview, a call came in and engineer Brown, the driver of a fire rig, had to roll out for a grass fire.
But after about 30 minutes, he returned and the three firefighters wrapped up their recollections of the Marshall Fire.
"Just so impressed with all the people," Johnson said. "People helping people and people getting out of there really showed what an amazing community we have.... It's hard to come home at the end of the day and know that you lost 1,000 houses and feel like you did a good job. But I mean, we really, really feel like we saved so many houses and people and everything that day."