Title image: An aerial photo shared by Gov. Jared Polis of a neighborhood near Davidson Mesa burned by the Marshall Fire. (Credit: Gov. Jared Polis)
After last week’s devastating fires, the extent of the damage and destruction in the Boulder County community is becoming more clear. While the fires didn’t reach the CU Boulder campus itself, hundreds of students, faculty and staff have been directly affected. More than 700 employees and more than 600 students live in areas that were evacuated. In all, nearly 1,000 structures were lost, including the homes of dozens of CU Boulder students, faculty and staff, and reports of other damages are expected to rise.
Starting the semester in remote status, rather than a two-week delay, preserves spring break, which students have indicated is integral to mental health.”
–Ann Schmiesing, executive vice provost for academic resource management
Many of the people evacuated were not able to return home over the weekend as first responders continued to evaluate fire conditions and other safety concerns, such as downed power lines, gas leaks or burst pipes. Thousands of homes in the area have not had power or heat during sub-freezing temperatures, which dropped to near zero over the weekend.
“The trauma Boulder County is enduring is significant and calls for a long-term, all-hands recovery,” said CU Boulder Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke. “While we are still evaluating who needs help and the best ways we can support our impacted students, faculty and staff, our campus community should know that we are committed to helping in any way we can.”
Campus launched a Fire Resources webpage over the weekend that will be continuously updated with emergency food, housing, financial assistance and other support, as well as opportunities to help those affected.
In addition to the fires, the local community was hit with extreme weather. Winds over 100 miles-per-hour knocked down trees around campus, shattered glass and caused power outages. Almost a foot of snow fell the following day accompanied by single-digit temperatures, which caused pipes to burst and flooded campus buildings.
The fires, wind and cold damage come amid a massive surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious and transmissible omicron variant. Boulder County has experienced a 118% increase in positive COVID-19 cases over the last week of available data, according to the Centers for Disease Control, further stressing the community’s infrastructure.
CU Boulder relies on staff and faculty members as well as student employees to provide the academic services, facility operations, student and faculty/staff support systems, residential hall operations (including food service) and many other critical operations necessary to keep the campus functioning at the highest level.
Campus leaders made the difficult decision to begin the spring semester with fully remote instruction considering the fact that so many staff and faculty members are facing challenges such as managing illness, securing housing, working with insurance companies, helping others in the community, and replacing destroyed personal belongings from laptop computers to cars.
Remote instruction to begin spring term
As Chancellor Philip DiStefano announced at the end of last week, the spring term will begin on Monday, Jan. 10, with fully remote instruction for the first two weeks of the semester. As the chancellor stated, the remote start will allow campus to provide support for impacted students, faculty and staff, as well as support community-wide recovery efforts.
“We know New Year’s Eve was not an ideal time to make this announcement,” said Executive Vice Provost Ann Schmiesing. “This is, however, an emergency situation. We needed to give people as much notice as possible to make alternative plans.”
"Starting the semester in remote status, rather than a two-week delay, preserves spring break, which students have indicated is integral to mental health," said Schmiesing. "Not delaying the start of the semester also preserves Maymester, which cannot overlap with the spring semester due to federal financial aid guidelines. Maymester is an important opportunity for many students to take courses necessary for their progress toward their degrees."
Research and creative work will continue as usual in accordance with masking and social distancing requirements. Staff who can work remotely, should work remotely during this time.
On- and off-campus housing, student fees
Residence halls will remain closed until the new move-in date of Jan. 21. Room and board rates will be reduced and other fees will be prorated to account for the two weeks of remote instruction and operations. Students who have been impacted by the fire or are experiencing other unique circumstances and need on-campus housing sooner should email University Housing at email@example.com by Jan. 4. Residential students received direct communication with additional information.
Students living in off-campus housing are strongly encouraged to delay their return to the Boulder area until Jan. 21, in advance of the start of in-person classes. Undergraduate and graduate students who live off-campus and were impacted by the fire and need housing support can email the dean of students at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss options.
Academic and work accommodations
Employees impacted by the fire who need work accommodations as the semester begins should contact their supervisors or department chairs. Students impacted by the fire who need academic support should contact their instructors directly and—for further assistance—Student Support and Case Management. Faculty should conduct their teaching, research and creative work remotely unless they need to be on campus for these activities. Additional guidance to colleges, schools, departments and instructional personnel will be published on the Academic Instruction Guidance webpage.
Buff Pantry fire resources
The Buff Pantry is collecting donations and operating drop-in hours Jan. 3-6 to support those impacted by the Marshall Fire. The Buff Pantry is located in the University Memorial Center (UMC) basement 1B73, near the lower level of the CU Book Store.
Ways to help
People can also volunteer or donate via coloradoresponds.org.
Law enforcement warns people should be wary of possible giving scams. Learn more on the Boulder Office of Emergency Management website. The Office of Information Security has more information to keep you safe online.