Published: Jan. 13, 2022

A view of a burned neighborhood in Superior, CO

A view of a burned neighborhood in Superior. A grass fire fueled by 100 mph winds destroyed more than 1,000 buildings in Superior and Louisville. Photo by Glenn Asakawa/CU Boulder.

As the devastating Marshall Fire burned on Dec. 30, 2021, hundreds of CU Boulder students, faculty and staff were among those who fled parts of unincorporated Boulder County and the towns of Louisville and Superior.

Nearly 900 CU Boulder students and more than 700 faculty and staff members were initially evacuated from the fire’s path.

Approximately 155 homes of CU Boulder community members were damaged or destroyed. Hundreds more community members are still unable to return home.

By the numbers

  • 899 students with homes in evacuation areas 
  • 771 faculty and staff with homes in evacuation areas
  • 155 CU Boulder community member (students, faculty, staff) homes damaged or destroyed
  • $27,480 in donations to Student Emergency Fund 
  • $55,470 in donations to Faculty & Staff Emergency Fund 
  • 12 CUPD officers who helped evacuate fire area 

All numbers are approximate and subject to change.

Many people waited for days to learn of their homes’ fates as much of Superior and Louisville were inaccessible for nearly a week. There were reports of possible gas leaks and environmental contaminants across neighborhoods. Homes were without power. Others were on boil water advisories for several days.

“It is heartbreaking that so many members of our campus community have lost homes or have been displaced,” said Chancellor Philip DiStefano. “This was traumatic for a lot of people in our community, and we are going to support them as they recover.”

Quick to help

As news of the fire spread, CU Boulder community members were on the front lines, including volunteer firefighters and a dozen CU Boulder Police officers, who rushed from house to house helping people evacuate.

As firefighters contained the Marshall Fire, CU Boulder families and Forever Buffs rallied to help those affected, raising more $82,000 to bolster the Student Emergency Fund and the Staff & Faculty Emergency Fund. Across the CU System, the Marshall Fire Support Fund and campus emergency funds raised more than $200,000.

As people impacted by the fires begin to apply for aid, those dollars are starting to help rebuild lives. 

The Student Emergency Fund and Staff & Faculty Emergency Fund disbursed more than $350,000 as of Wednesday to students, faculty and staff displaced and facing economic challenges after the fire. That money is anticipated to help pay for hotel rooms or rentals while displaced, emergency food aid, technology replacement, as well as other needs.

The funds are prepared to grant more aid as community members grapple with the processes of filing insurance claims and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance. 

Chancellor DiStefano granted as much as 160 hours of paid emergency leave for faculty and staff displaced by the fire. Graduate students with teaching appointments should contact their supervisors for assistance with accommodations. In the case of TAs, this is the instructor of record for the class; for GPTIs, this is usually their chair, director or associate dean.

Instructors were asked to give students impacted by the fire as much flexibility as possible as the semester begins.

“We appreciate the compassion and flexibility that our students, faculty and staff have shown after the Marshall Fire,” said Executive Vice Provost for Academic Resource Management Ann Schmiesing. “Their care, professionalism and dedication to supporting each other speaks volumes to the resilience of the CU Boulder community.”

The university created a landing page for other fire resources, including technology assistance, food assistance or work or academic accommodations. The page also has additional ways to help those impacted by the fire.

Major disruption

The fire happened amid a massive surge in COVID-19 cases in Boulder County and the surrounding areas, which are now marking some of their highest case rates since the start of the pandemic.

While the omicron variant is expected to produce less severe illness in many people, staff and faculty still cannot work while they are sick. 

With the confluence of the fire and the pandemic, campus leaders announced the spring term would begin in remote status to delay the large influx of students returning while the community was reeling.

“With more than 700 faculty and staff dealing with fire challenges, and many likely out due to illness, we would not have been able to start the semester in person and have been confident about our ability to meet the needs of our community. We did not want to impose an undue burden on the CU Boulder community or the broader Boulder community” said COO Patrick O’Rourke.

Leaders chose a remote start, rather than implementing a two-week delay, said O’Rourke, partly because it preserved the timing of Maymester and summer terms, which provide many students with important opportunities to take courses necessary to progress toward their degrees. 

A remote start also preserves the current spring break schedule, which students have indicated is integral to their mental health and well-being.

Despite the major disruptions, O’Rourke said, campus leaders hope the upcoming term can be one of unity as the university continues to heal.