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Marshall Fire

What Boulder County residents returning home after the Marshall fire found

Residents who reached their destroyed homes said they were worried about natural gas still coming from gas meters.

Joe Ray, right, and his uncle Steve Ray, left, survey the wreckage of their five-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom home in the Enclave Circle neighborhood in Louisville on Dec. 31, 2021. The Marshall Fire quickly spread through the town on the day before. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
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Boulder County residents who fled a roaring fire Thursday night weaved through back roads and neighborhoods Friday to find out whether their homes were still standing. For many, a smoldering pile of ash and flames was all that remained. 

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Michelle Clifford, along with her partner and 19-year-old son, stood amid the smoking ash of what was their home in the Enclave, a circular neighborhood in Louisville, on Friday morning. Flames were still whipping in the basement.

When they noticed that natural gas was still pumping out of the gas meter about 5 feet from the fire, they left.

“The basement was still on fire,” Clifford said later, while sitting in the Village Coffee Shop in Boulder, in shock and trying to make sense of what they had seen. “We could smell the gas. It was pretty intense.” 

The trio had snaked through multiple neighborhoods to reach the Enclave earlier that morning, then took videos to document the destruction. They counted seven houses still standing, out of 58.

Michelle Clifford hugs her partner Griff Duncan while surveying the damage in Louisville on Dec. 31, 2021. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Clifford put the addresses of the remaining homes on the neighborhood’s private Facebook page, to end the agony of waiting for their neighbors. 

“My stuff is replaceable,” she said. “I don’t even care. I’m worried about everybody else.”

Clifford had most of her belongings at her other house in Boulder, but most of her partner’s artwork – ink and digital prints – were lost. 

They were almost certain the house was gone as the flames tore through town, and as they watched 9News anchor Kyle Clark standing near the Enclave on Thursday night with a violent fire in the background. 

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They focused on making sure their neighbors were safe. One elderly woman at first could not escape because her power was out and she couldn’t open her garage door to get her car out, Clifford said. Another neighbor ended up calling 911 and authorities were able to open the garage, Clifford said. 

“I’m just glad everyone is OK,”she said. “The memories, that is the hardest part.”

“The neighborhood’s gone”

Cindy Ray and her husband, John, a lifelong resident of Louisville, lost their home of 22 years in Enclave Circle off McCaslin Boulevard. Steel beams that held up their floor melted in the heat. The neighborhood looked apocalyptic — smoky with flames — and it looked like there were flames in the basement.

“Everything’s gone,” she said. “The neighborhood’s gone.”

The couple had felt safe Thursday morning despite the black smoke coming from the Superior area, Ray said. It was clear in their neighborhood. Her husband went to check on neighbors around 1:30 p.m., when Ray looked outside and saw flames getting close. She screamed for her husband. They quickly gathered cell phones and belongings and rushed to a family member’s house on the other side of Louisville. 

A home in the Enclave Circle neighborhood in Louisville burns on Dec. 31, 2021, after the Marshall Fire tore through. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

She wished they’d gathered more. They left behind prescriptions. Her husband, who has been working from home for Oracle, didn’t bring his laptop, which Ray had been using to handle her late-father’s legal and financial affairs. He died in June and she is the executor of his estate. 

She wished they’d grabbed a notebook they kept financial information and passwords in. Their daughter and two granddaughters, ages 2 and 5, had been staying with them while their house was being built in Erie and the granddaughters lost everything, including recent Christmas gifts. 

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“That doggone Barbie Dreamhouse,” Ray said. “That’s all she wanted. I mean, just things like that. It’s silliness. But it’s kids. That’s all she’s going to think about.” 

“These are children and they’re scared and they’re not processing it with the adult brain,” Ray added. “So my heart really breaks for them. I mean clothes, everything, not even a little pair of panties. Everything.” 

Ray was making a list Friday of errands they had to run. Walgreens, to check about the prescriptions. The bank. Walmart to pick up toothbrushes and toothpaste. 

The loss — and the prospect of sifting through the detritus of their home and four decades of marriage — hit Ray Friday after spending much of Thursday night numb, she said. She broke down. 

Christina Howe surveys the wreckage from the Marshall Fire on Dec. 31, 2021. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

She thought of her sewing room, where she worked on quilts and projects using specific scissors and needles and colors of thread. She thought of a John Deere tractor she’d saved up for months to buy her husband for his birthday a couple years ago. 

“Things like that, that you accumulate over the years that you can’t just go buy in a day,” she said. 

The couple is trying to figure out where they will live long-term, and if they want to sell their lot or rebuild their lot. They’d loved their neighbors, who were like family, she said.

“She left the house with ears full of ash”

Michael Ingoldby lived with his wife and 18-month-old son in a home in Superior’s Sagamore Subdivision. They found out the house they purchased in 2009 was destroyed in the Marshall fire after seeing a satellite image of their neighborhood.

Ingoldby works from home but happened to be out to lunch when the fire came through. His wife hurried home to grab the dog and laptops before fleeing the fast-approaching flames.

“She left the house with ears full of ash,” he said. “Ash in her bra. Just all over the place.”

Ingoldby said he’s just happy that his family is safe.

“In the end, it’s just stuff,” he said of everything he lost in the fire. “Last night we were just so thankful that she was able to get the dog.”

People bike through the Enclave Circle neighborhood in Louisville following the Marshall fire on Dec. 31, 2021. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Ingolby grew up in Conifer and said he is “well versed in wildland fire.” He never expected it in Superior.

“Just seeing that happen down in suburbia — it’s not something that we ever expected,” he said. “We always kind of joked around that the houses in Sagamore are close together and that if one were to go they would all go.”

As for what’s next for his family, Ingoldby has no idea.

“The rental market was already tight to begin with before this fire,” he said. “If thousands of homes burned, it’s only going to get tighter.”

“I’m sure my home is gone”

Forrest Smith, 67, stayed in his Louisville home so long his smoke alarms were going off. He didn’t want to believe what was happening until it was almost too late.

He made it out OK, but has no idea where he’ll go or what he’ll do.

“I’m sure my home is gone,” he says.  “I watched the trees burn. My neighbor’s house started going up. Finally a cop car came by and he says, ‘man, you gotta go!’ I’ve lived there 30 years. I left with the clothes on my back. The HOA dues check was on the table, but I don’t know if there’s any homes in the HOA left.”

Smith, who retired from truck driving last year, has no children and no relatives nearby. He’ll greet 2022 from a Red Cross cot.

“It was just devastation.”

When Christina Howe returned to the Enclave neighborhood in Louisville – which she’s called home for more than 20 years – she couldn’t distinguish the plot where her house used to stand from her neighbors’. Most mailboxes were standing, but all she saw behind them was ashy rubble.

“It was just devastation,” Howe recalled.

Then she saw her green and turquoise, ceramic glass bird feeder, a Mother’s Day gift from her daughter, perfectly preserved and full of bird seed hanging from a nearby tree. 

“I guess God says he’ll take care of the birds, don’t worry. He takes care of things. We have a lot of faith that we will rebuild,” Howe said.

Howe said she and her husband, David, had come mostly to terms with the fact that their home, where they raised three of their children, was likely destroyed. But she held out some hope Friday morning.

“The heart wants what the heart wants. You keep thinking, ‘Well maybe it will be the only home standing.’ or ‘Maybe some part of it is saved,” she said.

She thought of the box filled with two-decades-worth of romantic cards from her husband.

“Maybe that box is still there. You keep hoping,” Howe said. “And then you see it.”

Both Howe and her husband weren’t able to get home in time to collect any belongings. Her antique china, photos of her husband’s father when he was a stuntman in California and magnets she’s collected from her years of travels are all gone.

Howe, 60, and her husband plan to revisit next week to see if there’s anything salvageable, though she’s doubtful. Both plan to rebuild. 

“I think we are still in denial, but I know that we have an opportunity to rebuild. We are blessed. I know there are many people who have lost everything and there won’t be as much opportunity. It does put a lot of things in perspective as to what to be grateful for,” she said. 

“That Enclave Circle neighborhood is very strong. There’s a lot of commitment to rebuilding and a strong community feeling. You can destroy homes and you can destroy stuff but destroying a community takes a lot more than a fire.”

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