State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Amid the Marshall Fire’s Urban Ashes, Hints of a Less Combustible Future

homes destroyed by wildfire on one side of street, homes intact on the other
On one side of the street, destruction, while homes on the other side remain seemingly untouched. Photo: Noah Abrams

Snow covers the ashes and national media are moving on, but the situation remains daunting for Colorado communities devastated by the December 30 Marshall Fire, the most destructive blaze in the state’s history.

The updated searchable damage assessment map maintained by Boulder County officials and partners shows in excruciating detail how a human-ignited, gale-driven grass fire, worsened by record heat and drought, became an urban inferno as it reached several towns, triggering house-to-house combustion and incinerating entire neighborhoods.

But if you look carefully, pathways to a safer future are revealed.

The most basic sign of hope is the lack of lethality, with only one person confirmed dead and one likely death — both outside urban areas — even as tens of thousands of people fled a fire that exploded with extraordinary speed. That success doesn’t minimize the pain for those closest to the victims. But it says emergency response agencies, media, businesses and the public achieved something wonderful, and largely hidden by headlines focused on the physical destruction. Hopefully the evacuation story will spread to all similar areas.

The other hopeful glimmers emerge by looking at outliers — homes that didn’t burn. 

Last Friday, just minutes before President Joe Biden visited the Colorado disaster zone, I was able to do an on-scene (albeit on-screen) interview with Noah Abrams, who owns one of a group of more than two dozen recently-built homes featuring fire-resistant siding and landscaping in the town of Superior.

Even though they were downwind of an older neighborhood that was completely destroyed, even though they were pelted with firebrands of molten plastic and other urban fuels carried on hurricane-strength gusts, all the homes are indeed intact.

Read the rest of the story and watch the interview on the Sustain What blog.

Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments