The Marshall Fire: Looking Back One Year
Almost one year ago, the Marshall Fire devastated our community. The impact was felt for miles due to destroyed homes and buildings, injured people and pets, and a widespread anxiety about the future. We felt this too at Harmony Veterinary Center, as our clinic is less than 6 miles shy of where the damage extended to. Many of our clients were personally affected by the fire as well. Looking back at this trying time can be upsetting, so we advise everyone to prioritize personal well being throughout the next few weeks, as well as taking discretion when consuming fire-related content. But the Marshall Fire is not simply a story of devastation, it is a story of progress and community.
In the early afternoon, owner Julia McPeek noticed an alarming amount of smoke coming from the Superior area. She immediately called office manager Karen Duran to alert her of the issue, urging her to research more on what was going on. Julia then arrived at the clinic, where she, Karen, and Dr. Brown prepared the clinic for evacuation. Throughout the day, staff continued to keep a close eye on news alerts while the dread continued — like most of the state. By evening the staff had made sure that the clinic cats were safely evacuated and then packed any critical equipment and supplies that they could into their vehicles and went home for the night. The experience solidified the importance of disaster preparedness, of course, and our clinic remains eternally grateful that firefighters were able to stop the southern spread of the fire, keeping our clinic safe.
The next day, the ownership team met up at the home of some friends in the neighborhood to plan out how we could help our community members and clients. As a staff we determined how we could offer shelter and material support to pets that had been evacuated while their families their got feet under them. We contacted our suppliers to ask for donations of supplies and we contacted the pet rescue organizations to offer our help. Realizing that there were veterinary clinics within the affected areas, we reached out to them to offer space to see and treat patients if their facilities had been made unusable or just to offer emotional support during a tough time.
After the fire, we supported a few cats who were found hiding, hungry, and extremely distressed. Thanks to the help of our amazing Certified Veterinary Technicians and doctors, these kitties are in their forever homes where they belong, with more than just a year’s worth of love and happiness.
We also worked with Front Range Rocks (frontrangerocks.com), the company that supplies the pet memorial stones that we offer, and they donated the engraving for a large number of pet memorial stones. These were distributed by the Boulder Valley Humane Society and the Colorado Veterinary Medicine Association (CVMA) Pet Loss groups at pet memorial services held to support people who had lost their pets in the fire.
What We’ve Lost
According to news reports, the devastating fire from December 30th, 2021 burned more than 6,000 acres and more than 1,000 homes. This left over one thousand families displaced and without a home during a cold and windy winter. Even buildings which did not suffer burns had so much smoke damage that they had to be completely renovated to become functional and safe again. It also took the lives of two people, affecting each and every community member. We send our consolations to every individual who was affected by this fire and its effects in any way.
Although the fire especially devastated the town of Superior, most every Coloradoan can attest to the feat and panic that ensued that night as the fire continued to spread despite first responder efforts. The fire could be seen for miles in all directions, and when the morning came, the only lights in once densely populated neighborhoods were burning coals in huge piles of ash. Still grasping for a semblance of normalcy while the pandemic disrupted lives again and again, the fire left Colorado hurting and traumatized, with a lot of work to do.
What We’ve Gained
The communities in Boulder County, the City of Louisville, and the Town of Superior quickly worked to provide support for families that had been left with nothing. Boulder County Housing and Human Services quickly put together a Disaster Assistance Center to help countless residents. As time passed, these counties set up collaborative home rebuilding efforts with victims, focusing on rebuilding sustainably and safely.
Experts in various fields also teamed together to provide safe drinking water, clean air, efficient energy, and counseling for those affected. Legislature was passed to protect communities and distribute funds accordingly; over $9 million went to destroyed buildings, smoke and wind damage, small businesses, and support for those evacuated. This money wasn’t just from the government, but from countless fundraisers thanks to the generosity around the United States and the world.
Government officials passed legislation and held meetings with victims to better understand their needs, but that didn’t stop other citizens from lending a helping hand — or two. Volunteers distributed drinking water, space heaters, monitored dumpster sites, and worked directly with residents to assist in debris removal and emotional support. With this as well as the outstanding work from youth corps, the community totaled at almost 4,000 volunteer hours. That’s 165 full days of work!
And that’s only what has been recorded by Boulder County, the City of Louisville, and the Town of Superior. Countless individuals donated personal belongings to victims, donated directly to rebuilding efforts, and shared the story on social media to increase awareness of the disaster. Learn more about our community’s recovery process here.
Now, our community is still finding a way forward — some things lost can never be recovered. But we have risen out of complete devastation and are stronger together. Without the support within and outside of the Colorado community, we don’t know where we would be. The town of Superior is now lively again and ready to start moving forward.
In the first days after the fire, it became clear that many people had not been able to evacuate their pets. Dr. Brown joined in efforts made by the veterinary community to help in the rescue process. It was learned that there was a lack of communication between local fire and rescue organizations and veterinary medical providers. This led a group of Veterinarians, Clinic Owners and CVTs to look for a solution. Julia McPeek, an owner at Harmony Vet was one of these individuals. She acted as a wheel hub bringing together different groups. Whether it was connecting Rescue Groups with Veterinary Hospitals or the Front Range Disaster Network with the MRC (Medical Reserve Corps), the vision was to create a cohesive group that could act as Veterinary First Responders in the event of a natural disaster. Another outcome is that the group came in contact with a researcher from University of Colorado Boulder who was actively looking at the effects of the Marshall Fire on Pets and People.
This work has had significant results. There is now a group called the Front Range Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps (rockymountainmrc.org/veterinarymrc/) with the mission to bring “Veterinary community preparedness and disaster response in the Front Range of Colorado” and a research paper examining the Marshall Fire as “…a disaster that defined the parameters of previous studies of pet evacuation” has been published. Our hope is that both of these acheivments will help all of us respond more effectively if faced with a natural disaster in the future.
Moving Forward Together
For both pets and people, mental wellbeing is just as significant as physical health. At HVC, we would like to remind each community member to engage in self care, self love, and positive social interactions. To receive community support as one year after the fire approaches, register for commemorative events and services can be accessed here.
In the past year, the Colorado community has made immense progress in recovering infrastructure, human and pet health, and the strength of our community. While we still have progress to make, the success stories of many pets close to our practice reflect just how far we all have come — whether we stand on two legs, or four.