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'The incongruity of peace and devastation': Shannon Ogden reflects on the Marshall Fire one year later

Denver7 evening anchor Shannon Ogden reflects on covering the tragic day of the Marshall Fire, and the generosity shown by Coloradans in the year since.
Posted: 10:38 AM, Dec 30, 2022
Updated: 2022-12-30 13:07:58-05
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The tragedy

Only a couple of times in my career have I reported on a tragedy that resulted in the worst case scenario.

For example, on 9/11, the hijackers crashed the planes into the towers, but then the towers fell. So, in that moment, a tragedy couldn't get worse – until it became even more tragic.

The Marshall Fire was one of maybe three times in my career, reporting on something that was truly worst-case scenario.

Commentary: Shannon Ogden reflects on tragedy, generosity one year after Marshall Fire

I remember sitting right at that anchor desk with Jessica Porter. And, obviously, it was bad, it was horrible.

So many things have to go exactly a certain way for it to be a worst-case scenario. And it was. We had bone-dry conditions, we had hurricane force winds. And you had a wildland fire that got into those towns in Boulder County.

And when the numbers came across our desk of the true scope of the destruction, you had no place to put that in your mind. It was going to be over 1,000 homes destroyed. That's one of the things that strikes me most, because worst-case – as awful as things are – is rarely the actual worst case.

But this was the worst case. It was so heartbreaking.

And also, I'll never forget one of the images from that night. It was getting late, so it was already dark. Our camera had a vantage point, kind of elevated, looking down at all these fires, and it was so awful. But then all these Christmas lights everywhere. And the incongruity of that, of this time of peace and celebration and families was happening when all these families lost everything, was striking.

That was so crazy, again, the incongruity of peace and joy and celebration, and complete devastation.

The generosity

The sheer volume of the money that we were able to raise is amazing – I mean, I personally handed over a check for $300,000 to A Precious Child, a group that’s doing such good work for the victims.

It's such a wonderful problem to have when we have all this money and it becomes a situation where we’re asking ourselves: “How do we give this away?” It’s a great problem to have that only happens with such generous people. So that always moved me so much.

But really, both in the tragedy and also in the generosity, for me, it was the small, intimate gestures that really hit home.

Yes, in many cases an entire home was lost. But hearing about the smaller things of sentimental value was also powerful. You know, that vase from your grandmother, whatever.

I met dozens – 60, maybe – of these families over the last year. And there was a family that came into A Precious Child. For context, I have a young daughter, and they had daughters about my daughter's age. And those girls lost all their stuffed animals.

And so that, to me, was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that's what happened.’ It wasn't that they lost a house. She lost all her stuffed animals. I mean, my daughter is inconsolable if she doesn't have her one particular rabbit. And how many times did that happen?

ARCHIVE: Colorado girl collects hundreds of 'stuffies' for Marshall Fire victims

Getting back to what struck me most about that time, because it was Dec. 30 – and I think I even said this on the air – that the Christmas trees were still up. And, if it was anything like my house with little kids in it, those homes still had remnants of presents that had just been opened and just gotten started being played with.

And that was the night it all went away.

It was just so incredible that it actually happened. And in the year since then – and I know we're trying to be positive here – but most times when a terrible thing happens, it's awful. But from the moment the thing happens, again, as awful as it is, from that moment on, the healing begins. The thing is over, as awful as it was, and your life has changed, there's a slow improvement, but the awful moment itself is over. You march forward.

But that hasn't been the case for the majority of the people impacted by the Marshall Fire, because this tragedy was compounded by being underinsured. They’ve had the horrible misfortune that their whole house that they’ve worked for is now gone. And then you go, ‘Wow, that was awful. Let's rebuild.’ But in so many of these cases, they can't afford it.

That's happened to how many scores of these people? That's what breaks my heart. Through no fault of their own, so many people can't go back.

What a horrible tragedy on top of tragedy that has been. And also, I think, one of the most profound lessons from this whole thing for all of us is to look at your insurance and make sure you're in good shape. I just recently went to a Christmas event for these families up in Louisville, and there's no one I met that said, ‘Yeah, no, we were covered and we're going to rebuild.’ Not a single person I met. So I think it’s incredibly important for people to know the importance of protecting themselves from the worst-case scenario.