Investigation into cause of Colorado wildfire continues

·4 min read

The investigation into the cause of the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, which forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes ahead of the new year, remains ongoing as a new round of snow looms.

The search is focused on an area where a bypasser recorded a video of a burning shed on Dec. 30, the day the Marshall Fire broke out, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said at a news briefing Monday. Experts from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Forest Services are participating in the investigation.

Early reports from officials had suggested that downed powerlines could have sparked the Marshall Fire, but they have since walked back that theory after further investigation. The downed lines that had been found in the area didn't transmit electricity; instead, these lines were used to transmit telecommunications data, The New York Times reported based on the findings of fire investigators and work crews from Xcel Energy, which provides power to the area.

The fire had spread quickly amid hurricane-force wind gusts and covered 6,026 acres across the towns of Superior and Louisville, burning nearly 1,000 structures and displacing thousands.

Charred vehicles sit amid the rubble of a home destroyed by wildfires Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Superior, Colo. A Colorado wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes has been boxed in by firefighters to prevent it from spreading. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

"It's all gone," said one survivor of the fire. "It's like all of our neighbors around us except for one, which is right next to us. It's OK."

Haniff Jamal told the AFP that all of the pictures of his kid growing up had been lost to the fire.

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A majority of the 991 buildings destroyed by the fire were homes, The Associated Press reported, though the fire also burned through eight businesses at a shopping center in Louisville and damaged 12 other businesses in Superior. Among those damaged were a Target, a Chuck E. Cheese pizzeria, a Tesla car dealership a hotel, and the town hall.

Over the weekend, authorities executed a search warrant as a part of the investigation, but Pelle did not disclose what location had been searched.

Officials have confirmed that the Marshall Fire began on private property at the Boulder County intersection of Marshall Road and Highway 93, an area owned by a fundamentalist Christian sect known as Twelve Tribes, according to The New York Times. Pelle noted that investigators are examining the site as well as the surrounding areas and warned against jumping to conclusions and that it could take weeks to months before the cause was found.

"We haven't eliminated or honed in on any one specific thing. It's an open investigation. We're going to do it right. It's going to take some time. You're going to lose your patience because it's going to take a while," Pelle said Monday, adding that "the stakes are huge."

Snow covers the smoldering remains of homes in Louisville, Colo., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, after the Marshall Wildfire. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Snow has hindered investigation efforts, Pelle said. Unfortunately, another round of winter weather is on the way and is forecast to bring a swath of 1-3 inches of snow to the Denver area.

Two people remained missing as of Tuesday evening, and while no human fatalities have been reported thus far, many have been left without a roof of their own.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis highlighted that groups such as United Way were operating out of a local assistance center set up by FEMA, and that evacuees could also find shelter at the Arapahoe YMCA.

"So those who have been impacted, that is the place to go for all your needs. It's running smoothly. There's not large lines, they have vouchers for hotels. They have food," Polis said, speaking of the FEMA assistance center.

Utility crews have gone door to door checking if natural gas and electricity could be safely restored among the homes left standing, and authorities had distributed thousands of space heaters over the weekend, according to the AP.

Despite the loss, residents like Rob Harris, who lost his home to the fire, told AFP that he plans to rebuild.

"It's our first home, so we want to rebuild right here, so right now we're kind of picking through the stuff," Harris said.

Additional reporting by AccuWeather National Reporter Kim Leoffler.

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