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She thought the evacuation was a precaution. Then the Cal-Wood fire erased her family’s Boulder County home.

Courtney Walsh rushed her children, parents and pets out of harm’s way just as the blaze approached their house on Foothills Ranch Drive, just north of Boulder

A photo of what's left of Courtney Walsh's home north of Boulder after the Cal-Wood fire tore through her neighborhood. (Provided by Kirsten Barry of the Hygiene Fire Protection District)
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BOULDER — When Courtney Walsh received a text Saturday afternoon that her home north of Boulder was in the mandatory evacuation area for the Cal-Wood fire, she thought she was being ordered to leave just as a precaution.

Still, she rushed back to her house on Foothills Ranch Drive to get her family together. She told her kids, ages 10 and 7, that the evacuation was just a drill and that everything was going to be fine, but to grab backpacks full of clothes just in case. 

Walsh said she started packing a few items herself, but wasn’t really thinking straight as she wrangled her kids, two dogs and two bunnies into a car.

A photo of what’s left of Courtney Walsh’s home north of Boulder after the Cal-Wood fire tore through her neighborhood. (Provided by Kirsten Barry of the Hygiene Fire Protection District)

“It wasn’t real at that moment that we wouldn’t be returning,” Walsh told The Colorado Sun. “I was just frozen.”

On Sunday, Walsh found out that her house had burned to its foundation, leaving scraps of warped metal and smoldering bricks.

“It’s all gone,” she tweeted Sunday. “I’m gutted.”

The Walsh’s home burns in the Cal-Wood fire. (Provided by Kirsten Barry of the Hygiene Volunteer Fire Department)

Walsh’s home is one of at least 20 consumed by the Cal-Wood fire, which erupted Saturday afternoon and roared east from Jamestown to the U.S. 36 corridor. Two more were damaged and two undeveloped lots were also destroyed, in addition to two historic structures in Heil Valley Ranch. A final tally of the structures lost is still pending, but at a briefing Saturday, officials said more than 1,600 homes — and at least 3,000 people — were evacuated.

The fire is already the largest in Boulder County’s history at 8,788 acres as of Sunday morning. Cooler temperatures, low wind speeds and high relative humidity have helped crews get 15% containment on the blaze, but officials have cautioned that the firefight is not over.

MORE: At least 26 homes torched by Cal-Wood fire as new Lefthand Canyon blaze threatens more destruction

As the fire approached, Walsh fled with her children and pets in one car. Her husband, Todd, waited behind for Walsh’s parents, who were staying with the family and wanted to return to gather items before abandoning the house. Todd tore pictures and art off of the walls while, down the road, Walsh’s parents were begging officers to let them up to the house. 

By the time Todd and Walsh’s parents were leaving, they could see flames approaching.

Walsh got the news about her home on Sunday morning from a friend who works for the Hygiene Volunteer Fire Department. Her family had lived in the house, tucked back into the foothills, for four years. 

Her kids lamented lost stuffed animals and toys, but she says “it’s all replaceable.”

“We’re all safe and that’s what matters,” Walsh said.

The Cal-Wood fire appears to burn a structure north of Boulder on Saturday night, Oct. 17, 2020. (Joseph Gruber, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Walsh, who was born in Boulder, has worked in the area as a publicist for philanthropist and restaurateur Kimbal Musk for almost 15 years. She and her family were living in south Boulder when the 2013 floods devastated the county, and evacuating on Saturday brought back memories of trying to decide what to take when the water was rising. They were able to salvage some things from the flood, including her parents’ piano. But, she said, “we weren’t so fortunate this time.”

Walsh and her family have been able to take refuge at a friend’s house in Boulder. As for what’s next, she said, “I don’t know, I really don’t know.”

“We’re all safe. We have a place to stay,” Walsh said. “And I feel lucky being in the Boulder community. There’s been an outpouring of support.”

Updated at 11:11 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020: This story has been updated to correct incorrect information from a source. At least 20 homes were destroyed by the Cal-Wood fire on Saturday. Two more were damaged and two undeveloped lots were also destroyed, in addition to two historic structures in Heil Valley Ranch.

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