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A Wildfire Sheds Light: Interviews with Marshall Fire Survivors

A Wildfire Sheds Light: Interviews with Marshall Fire Survivors


Rebuilding from natural disaster within a capitalist system

YS explores the ongoing impacts of the Marshall Fire through a multi-part series including interviews with survivors and analysis of the role of climate change and alternatives to recovery such as mutual aid.

Photo by Skinner Myers

On December 30, 2021, a wildfire tore through Louisville and Superior, two wealthy suburban cities nestled among the busy shopping centers and relatively pristine open spaces stretching between Boulder and Denver, Colorado. Two lives were lost that day, and more than 1,100 businesses and homes were destroyed, many of them containing home businesses and remote work spaces for weathering the COVID-19 pandemic. By the next day when a heavy snowstorm added another ring of hell, a deep transformation of the area’s economic and psychological landscapes was already well underway.

In the following months, reconstruction began, and the grasses and shrubs returned, but the charred remains of trees and houses make the absence of thousands of displaced residents impossible to forget. Many continue to struggle with financial obstacles to returning home, especially now that most residents’ single year of insurance coverage for emergency living expenses has run out, if it was adequate to begin with — not to mention the ongoing health risks of living in smoke-damaged structures.

The Marshall Fire poured fuel on a problem already raging out of control for renters and owners alike in Boulder County and elsewhere: the ballooning cost of all forms of housing.

Homeowners in particular face ongoing devastation from a combination of unexpectedly inadequate insurance coverage and woefully minimal assistance from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Many renters in the area suffered tremendously as housing became a rarer commodity.

The massive losses incurred render especially stark the inadequacy of current methods of responding to disaster. It’s not just insurance and FEMA that betrayed survivors. It’s all of us collectively. It’s capitalism, which also fuels climate change.

Looking back over the past twelve-plus months of recovery, all signs point toward living differently so that disasters can be less, well, disastrous. The question is: How? As many have known since at least the Paris Commune, the answer, or at least part of it, is to build material and relational networks of reciprocal care.

Part 1: Mutual Aid in Suburbia? Offers a panoramic perspective on the demographics of Boulder County, particularly Louisville and Superior, with an eye on what this meant when the Marshall Fire occurred.

Part 2: Mutual Aid Is Everyone’s Future considers how neither wealth nor government can keep us safe from climate disasters and outlines the basics of mutual aid.

Part 3: It Didn’t Have to Be This Way, looks at how the lack of mutual aid helped during the surreal and traumatic experiences. 

Part 4: Mutual Aid, the Real Insurance, explores the experiences of Marshall Fire survivors navigating insurance claims, remediation, and more.

Part  5: Social Media, Infrastructure for Mutual Aid, unpacks what it means when we reply on social media platforms like Twitter, or NextDoor, for community safety.

Part 6: Advice from Marshall Fire Survivors, shares tips from the front lines of climate disaster.

Special thanks to Carole Billingham for introducing me to so many other survivors of the Marshall Fire. If you or someone you know are a Marshall survivor in need of mental health support, please see this list of crisis services.

To donate to support survivors in the long-term or to obtain assistance, visit the Boulder County Wildlife Fund and the Red Cross.


Carolyn Elerding
Carolyn Elerding (she/they), PhD, is a writer, editor, activist, and former professor based in Boulder. Elerding’s writing on cultural and social issues like diversity, equality, and the climate can also be found in such venues as Ms. magazine and The Real News network. Find them online at @celerding @[email protected] https://carolynelerding.com/

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