Life was coming together for Mary and Taylor Stanley.
They met in 2018, got married in 2021, moved into Taylor’s childhood home in Superior, and had their first child in August – a boy named Tobias. With a new baby, they gave up their habit of biking everywhere, and bought their first car: a 2006 Chevy Equinox.
When the Marshall fire bore down on them on Dec. 30, Taylor got into the car – only to find it wouldn’t start. As Mary stepped out of the house with a load of their belongings, they prepared to run for their lives.
Just then, an Amazon driver pulled up, hustled the family into the van, and sped away from the inferno that soon consumed the Stanley’s home and their car.
In the days since the fire, the Stanleys couch surfed with friends before securing a hotel room in Broomfield with FEMA funds. Without a car, they’re relying on friends for rides to the store and to the Disaster Assistance Center in Lafayette.
“When we’re not searching for a new home, we’re looking for a new car,” Mary said. “It’s hard. We’re pretty strapped for cash right now.”
It’s unknown how many people lost their primary mode of transportation in the Marshall fire, but those who are trying to replace cars are facing high prices and low inventory. Disaster response agencies are working to provide alternative transportation methods for those left stranded, but they say mobility issues are likely to persist for a long time.
A total of 1,381 vehicles are known to have burned in the fire, according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. Of those, roughly 800 were burned on a public street as opposed to a driveway or garage. Cleanup crews began removing those Friday, while property owners were instructed to work with insurance companies to remove vehicles from private property.
Meanwhile, Boulder County officials have pulled together a variety of ways for people to get around: free RTD bus passes, vouchers for Uber and Lyft, free membership offers from Colorado CarShare, and free door-to-door shuttle bus rides in the Superior and Louisville areas with expanded service to the Disaster Assistance Center.
The system is working well for now, said Alex Hyde-Wright, Boulder County’s principal transportation planner.
“We’ve been pretty successful consolidating resources so far, but the dust is still settling,” Hyde-Wright said. “We don’t have a great sense yet of what the long-term transportation needs will be.”
One looming challenge: how to get students now scattered across the region to school in Superior and Louisville.
“Boulder Valley Schools can’t come get you on a school bus if you’ve been pushed far away,” Hyde-Wright said. “Solving that is going to be challenging. There was already a bus driver shortage before COVID, but it’s gotten far worse since.”
RTD is also facing a driver shortage, he said, though all bus routes disrupted by the fire have since reopened.
Those looking to replace lost cars face a tight market. Used car prices have shot up in Colorado in the past year, according to Carfax. The average price of a used sedan hit $19,591 in January, up 40% from Jan. 2020.
The used car price spike is largely driven by a severe shortage of new cars, said Tim Jackson, head of the Colorado Auto Dealers Association. The number of new cars for sale on dealer lots nationwide is at about 500,000, a 90% drop from the normal 5 million, Jackson said.
“We’ve literally had dealerships run completely out of cars in Colorado,” Jackson said.
Still, the data have yet to show any impact in car inventory or prices attributable to the Marshall fire, said both Jackson and Carfax spokesperson Emilie Voss.
For now, those who want to help fire survivors get around should donate to the Community Foundation of Boulder County, said Hyde-Wright, the transportation planner.
“And I don’t mean to be coy,” he added, “but if you’ve ever thought about becoming a bus driver, this would be a great time.”