Marshall Fire devastation hits home for metro cities

In Littleton and Englewood, renewed conversation about wildfire safety

Robert Tann
rtann@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/10/22

As Boulder County continues to reel from the unprecedented destruction of the Marshall Fire, densely populated cities across the metro area see the devastation of Superior, Louisville and other …

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Marshall Fire devastation hits home for metro cities

In Littleton and Englewood, renewed conversation about wildfire safety

Posted

As Boulder County continues to reel from the unprecedented destruction of the Marshall Fire, densely populated cities across the metro area see the devastation of Superior, Louisville and other unincorporated parts of the county as a sobering reminder that their communities could face similar tragedy. 

“There is a big lesson for us,” said Mark Relph, city manager for the City of Littleton, which has a population of about 50,000. “It is going to be in our future, it’s inevitable. So we better be prepared for that.”

As Front Range and metro area communities continue to grow and populations encroach on grasslands, the risk of wildfires becomes greater, especially when met with drought and high winds, such as the case of the Marshall Fire. Coupled with unrelenting climate change, population growth will require cities and towns to confront more fires more often, Relph said. 

“I agree with people who say, ‘that’s probably going to be more common in the future,’” he said. “If we have drier conditions that persist through the fall, we’re just going to have to be better prepared to manage those issues.” 

The city manager is no stranger to wildfires. Growing up in California, Relph said, he and his family were evacuated twice from their homes due to fire danger. But he’d never seen anything in terms of the scale of destruction that occurred in Boulder County. Living in Arvada, Relph said he could “see the glow of the fire from my backyard.”

The fallout of the Marshall Fire has prompted Relph to call on the Littleton City Council to hold a special meeting to discuss the city’s wildfire response and mitigation, as well as other emergency disaster responses in general.

“Having a fire of this magnitude … I think it’s always a good time for local governments to reflect back and make sure they’re prepared,” Relph said. 

Littleton is slated to update its fire safety code for all buildings new and old sometime this year, said Relph. The city has dealt with two apartment fires in the past four years, with one that claimed a woman’s life and another that displaced tenants from 18 apartment units.

Other nearby municipalities are also taking a new look at how prepared they are for the next disaster, such as neighboring Englewood, which has a population of about 35,000. 

“We definitely want to learn how we can get better with any type of wildfire response,” said Englewood Mayor Othoniel Sierra. 

This will include shoring up the remaining city staff who are not yet trained in the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a federal protocol that standardizes and facilitates coordination between governments and local, state and national resources for emergency responses. Sierra said currently 90% of the city’s staff is trained in NIMS. 

For Sierra, the vulnerability of suburbs to wildfires hadn’t yet been on his mind, until he saw the Marshall Fire level several neighborhoods.

“That was the big shock,” he said. “That caught me by surprise and it’s going to be a reason why we’re going to have further discussions. It definitely made it very real.”

As communities in Boulder County continue to recover, Englewood and Littleton have both offered services, mainly in the way of traffic assistance, according to Relph and Sierra. 

While neither has been asked to provide any financial assistance, Littleton Mayor Kyle Schlachter said he attended a recent meeting between the South Metro Mayors Caucus where an idea for each metro city to send up to $1,000 to the communities affected by the fire was proposed. 

“That’s something that I think is a meaningful effort that the City of Littleton can do,” he said, adding that discussions around the idea are ongoing.

MarshallFire, wildfire, Superior, Littleton, Louisville, Englewood

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