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Sheriff: Investigation into cause, origin of Marshall Fire could take weeks to months

Officials with FBI, USFS, ATF all aiding in investigation
marshall fire debris home search
Posted at 4:19 PM, Jan 03, 2022

DENVER – The investigation into the origin and cause of the Marshall Fire, which burned more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Boulder County on Thursday, could take weeks or months but is “in full force and full swing,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Monday. The fire is fully contained.

Assisting local investigators are agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and special investigators from the U.S. Forest Service who have expertise in investigating wildfires in the wildland urban interface, Pelle said. A warrant was served over the weekend in connection with the investigation, Pelle said Saturday.

But as the community and journalists press to figure out if a person or people were responsible for starting the fire that spread quickly across more than 6,000 acres in southern Boulder County, fanned by extremely high winds, Pelle said people might even lose their patience with him because he will be sure the integrity of the investigation remains intact.

“It’s going to take a while. And we’re going to get the right people with the right expertise. The snow’s going to melt. We’re going to be able to see better. Things are going to happen,” Pelle said. “So, we’re going to do it well and we’re going to take our time and be methodical because the stakes are huge.”

Sheriff: Investigation into cause of Marshall Fire could take weeks

Pelle confirmed that a Twelve Tribes compound near Highway 93 and Marshall Road, near the start of the fire and from where witnesses have provided video of some of the earliest moments of the fire, was indeed part of the investigation on the point or origin, but he said other areas nearby were under investigation as well.

“We haven’t eliminated or honed in on any one specific thing,” Pelle said. “It’s an open investigation. We’re going to do it right. It’s going to take some time.”

When reached Monday, a spokesperson for the Twelve Tribes referred questions from Denver7 about the fire investigation to the sheriff’s office.

Pelle said he had seen dozens of people meeting with the local and federal investigators over the past several days for interviews but reiterated that it could take weeks or months before investigators could say for sure what started the fire and where it started. He said that was far more important than making a hasty determination.

Pelle also again reiterated that Xcel Energy and local investigators had found only a telecommunications line at the area where firefighters originally thought they had seen a downed power line, which led him and other officials in the initial hours after the fire to say might have been the cause.

Sheriff: Investigation into cause, origin of Marshall Fire could take weeks to months

Gov. Jared Polis said he supports investigators taking the time necessary to get a full understanding of the fire’s cause.

“What’s most important is getting it right. So, whether it takes a week, a month, or two months, getting it right is the most important,” Polis said. “…There’s no one in this state better than Sheriff Pelle to get it right. And that’s exactly what they’re going to do in the coming days and weeks, and if needed, months.”

More areas to reopen, some resident passes will be handed out

The two outstanding residents are still missing, officials said Monday, but crews are working with cadaver dogs and with small tools to sift through the damaged homes where those people were last known to be amid debris that was subject to extremely high temperatures.

Pelle said downtown Superior would likely be reopening to residents and business owners on Monday afternoon or evening and that he was hopeful the Spanish Hills neighborhood would be as well.

In an update Monday evening, officials announced the following reopenings for some residents and businesses beginning at 6 p.m. in the following areas:

  • Spanish Hills
  • Original Town excluding Sagamore Subdivision. South 76 Street will remain closed and cannot be used to access this area.
  • Superior Marketplace and businesses within this area on the west side of McCaslin Blvd will be accessible to employees and contractors only.
  • Downtown Superior and Discovery Park

Businesses in this area east of McCaslin Blvd will remain accessible only to emergency personnel with the exception of Sports Stable and Urgent Care, which will be open to the public.

The county will also be putting dumpsters in neighborhoods affected by the fire so people returning home can dump any water-damaged household items and spoiled food – though Pelle said people should not dump other home debris or tree debris into them.

Louisville Police Chief Dave Hayes said there will remain both soft and hard closures for areas of town affected by the fire.

But residents who have to go into the soft closures will be able to get resident passes to get into those areas starting Tuesday morning through Thursday — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — at Ascent Community Church (550 McCaslin Blvd.). People will be able to display those placards on their dashboards instead of showing ID or utility bills.

Hayes added that the Boulder Valley School District would also be implementing a pass program for parents to take their kids to or pick them up from school, as well as for high school students at Monarch High School.

MORE: Marshall Fire: Resources for victims, ways to help, where to donate and more

The Disaster Assistance Center operated by Boulder County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and others is the go-to resource for people whose homes and businesses burned in the Marshall Fire, local officials and Polis said. The governor toured the facility Monday morning and said he wanted to pass along thanks from residents being served there to the people across the state and nation for their support over the past few days.

The recovery center will aid people with food, housing assistance, transportation, mental health needs, insurance claims and more, the officials said, and will operate from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 1755 South Public Road in Lafayette.

An Xcel Energy official reiterated that hundreds of crew members were out working to restore gas service and relight pilot lights across nine regions – with two of them already complete. Service had been restored to 5,000 of 13,000 customers as of Monday morning.

On the electricity side, Xcel said everyone outside of the burn path had their service restored by Monday afternoon, and that crews were going home-by-home and business-by-business inside the burn path, where about 400 customers were still without electricity. But an official said she expected most of those customers are unable to receive power because of infrastructure damage.