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Marshall Fire

Three people are missing — and presumed dead — after Marshall fire, Boulder County authorities now say

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle called it a miracle Friday that no one had been killed in the fire, which destroyed at least 991 homes. But officials now say he had not been properly briefed.

Aboard a Colorado National Guard helicopter, Gov. Jared Polis on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, gets a flyover tour of Boulder County neighborhoods destroyed by wildfires the previous day. He was accompanied by Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan, Adjutant General of Colorado, and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse also toured the area in a separate helicopter. (POOL: Hart Van Den Burg, CPR)
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Three people are missing — and presumed dead — after the Marshall fire swept through Boulder County, authorities said Saturday, a day after they said all missing persons had been accounted for and that no one had died in the disaster.

“We unfortunately believe these are going to turn into recovery cases,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said at a news conference Saturday. “The structures where these folks would be are completely destroyed.”

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Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management, declined to release the identities of the three missing people.

But 9News reports one of the missing people is 91-year-old Nadine Turnbull, who lived in Superior. “They tried to go out,” Hutch Armstrong, Turnbull’s grandson, told the television station. “(Her home) was engulfed.”

Pelle said two of the missing people were in Superior when the fire roared through, while the third was in the Marshall area. He said cadaver dogs will be used to try to find the missing people’s remains.

“I think it’s miraculous that it’s three and not hundreds,” Pelle said of the missing people.

Pelle said that debris at the homes where the missing people were “is hot, it’s all fallen in and it’s not covered with 8 inches of snow.”

“We’ll continue to look for those folks and report out as soon as we have information,” Churchill said.

Sheriff Pelle, at a news conference on Friday, called it a miracle that no one had been killed in the fire. Gov. Jared Polis echoed the celebration. But Churchill said Pelle had not been properly briefed and was unaware of the three unaccounted for people.

“I think the sheriff probably wasn’t adequately briefed by us,” Churchill said. “That was an unfortunate error. We feel terrible.”

Gov. Jared Polis and other elected officials speak to reporters about the Marshall fire on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Boulder County. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The Marshall fire, the most destructive in Colorado history, burned across 6,000 acres on Thursday, torching as many as 1,000 homes. At least 991 destroyed structures have been identified so far, and more than 100 structures were damaged.

Here’s the breakdown by area so far:

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  • 553 were destroyed in Louisville, 45 were damaged
  • 332 were destroyed in Superior, 60 were damaged
  • 106 homes were destroyed in unincorporated Boulder County, 22 were damaged

“It’s not final, but it’s very close,” Pelle said of the destroyed and damaged count.

Tens of thousands were evacuated from Superior and Louisville because of the fire.

A winter snowstorm blanketing the Front Range has halted the fire’s spread. U.S. 36 has reopened between Denver and Boulder and evacuees are expected to be allowed back into their homes on Saturday afternoon.