Photo above: An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Marshall Fire. (Credit: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis/Twitter)

On December 30, 2021, a wildfire sparked in Boulder County, Colorado, destroying hundreds of homes in the communities of Louisville and Superior near the city of Boulder. The fire further heightened the reality of the global climate crisis, highlighting the damaging effects of warming, drying conditions on urban communities. CU Boulder experts are available to discuss the conditions that lead to this historic wildfire and how the communities impacted will recover.

On climate change and fire ecology

Jennifer Balch is the director of CU Boulder’s Earth Lab and can discuss the increasing frequency of wildfires across the country and how climate change impacts that trend. She has extensively studied the influence of human activity on wildfires in the United States.

Natasha Stavros is a fire ecologist and directs the Earth Lab Analytics Hub. Her research focuses on megafires in the North American West as it pertains to climate, human interactions and ecosystems.

Maxwell Cook, doctoral candidate in geography at the Earth Lab, can speak to the losses of the Marshall Fire in the context of other destructive wildfire events in the past two decades. He is currently in the process of publishing work which examines how fire speed (related to wind-driven events) greatly increases the likelihood of home destruction. 

On climate change and snowpack

Noah Molotch, an associate professor of geography and head of the Mountain Hydrology Group at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, can discuss how climate change affects snowpack conditions and how snowpack conditions impact wildfire hazard.

Keith Musselman is a research associate at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) who studies how increased winter snowmelt threatens western water resources. He can speak to how the local drought and lack of snow set the stage for the Dec. 30 wildfires and how our changing climate will impact the risk of other natural disasters going forward.

On human impacts of natural disasters

Lori Peek is a professor of sociology and the director of the Natural Hazards Center. She can discuss how natural disasters impact children and other vulnerable populations and what communities can do to become more disaster-resilient. Peek is co-author of “Children of Katrina,” about children displaced by the 2005 hurricane, and “Safer, Stronger, Smarter: A Guide to Improving School Natural Hazard Safety.”

Nnenia Campbell, a researcher in the Natural Hazards Center, is an expert in the social aspects of disasters and can speak about risk communication, the intersection of disasters and COVID-19, burnout within the disaster workforce and what happens to socially vulnerable populations in disasters––particularly with respect to older adults, low-income groups and racial and ethnic minorities. Campbell recently co-authored a report about the unique challenges that COVID-19 has presented in emergency evacuations and has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers on a project related to risk communication for socially vulnerable populations.

On water quality 

Fernando Rosario-Ortiz is professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering and director of the Environmental Engineering Program. As an expert in environmental chemistry, he can speak to the impact of wildfires on water quality and treatment, and what to expect after the Marshall fire. 

On mitigating indoor smoke impacts 

Experts at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Studies (CIRES) have compiled a resource of post-wildfire indoor air quality facts and solutions to mitigate smoke impacts in homes and businesses.