SUPERIOR, Colo. (CBS4) – Residents described the fear and chaos of evacuating their homes during Thursday’s devastating Marshall Fire in Boulder County. That was after initial reports of hundreds missing in the fast moving wildfire that became an urban fire running over hundreds of homes. Over 30,000 people evacuated the fire as is raced across the landscape and spotted to new areas in a matter of moments.
“So our strategy from the beginning was life safety,” explained Boulder County Incident Commander Mike Smith about the mass evacuation. “For the hand that we were dealt, I don’t think we could have done a better job from the response from the local fire departments stepping up, to the county response.”
Firefighters knew that initially they could not fight a fire driven by winds of 100 miles an hour and more. They along with police officers and sheriff deputies set to work getting people moving.
“They got on it early. The firemen and the police cars were coming through the neighborhood telling people to evacuate,” said evacuee Matthew Hoffman. “So people were on it and they got on it early. And because of that I think lives were saved.”
Not everyone is convinced in a fire.
“I probably stuck around a little longer than I should have. I was trying to get my roommate the leave the house. He wasn’t all that eager,” added Hoffman.
“You can’t wait. Everybody tells you it’s a moment of recognition and you’ve got to make a decision,” said evacuee Aaron Frost. He raced home to retrieve his wife in their home on the Louisville-Lafayette line.
“Having my wife scared and panicked without a car. Knowing that I had half my family there plus the dogs and all of our belongings we just needed to get out of here quick.”
Others were in critical situations. Jessi Delaplain and her husband lost their home to the fire.
“I gathered myself and I gathered my cats which was no easy feat to stuff them into the car. And I pulled out of the driveway and there were flames surrounding us.”
The evacuation should be studied noted Gary Briese, executive director of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association. Boulder County’s online emergency warning system does not have great participation numbers. But people found out.
The Marshall Fire was in a wide open area where smoke could be seen from a distance and the raging winds certainly had the attention of people. Firefighters and law enforcement moved rapidly though.
“I just think they were on their megaphones and they were going through neighborhood,” said Hoffman. There were certainly traffic jams as people fled. But police were nearby to act.
“[Highway] 287 was an absolute parking lot,” said Frost. “So I took Empire Road I think it is up to 42. Again parking lot. And that’s where everything just stopped. We had almost no visibility. The police were escorting and detouring us around.”
Briese noted that a good look at the evacuation should be studied to create a best practices understanding that could help in the future.
For people who were in life or death situations, moments made a difference.
“I feel like I made it out with my life and that’s I think the most important thing,” said Jessi Delaplain.