More than 1,000 dogs, cats, guinea pigs and other house pets are estimated to have perished in the Marshall fire, and the community is planning to honor them with public memorials as the fire’s one-year anniversary approaches.
A University of Colorado Boulder study estimated the number of pets killed in the wildfire after the authors researched news articles and social media posts about lost pets, read emergency public information documents and interviewed fire victims who lost pets and animal shelter workers who helped with rescues, according to a CU news release.
Getting a precise count of lost pets was nearly impossible because pet licenses were not required in the fire zone, the study found.
The researchers concluded 1,182 pets were killed. The study did not include livestock.
Twenty-four animals, mostly dogs, were brought to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley and reunited with their owners after the fire. Of the 107 lost animal reports filed with the Humane Society, only 26 were canceled because the animal was later found, according to the CU study.
After the fire, hundreds of families searched for lost pets.
Many people were not home when the fire started and could not get back to their houses in time to save their pets from the fast-moving fire. Some families who were home had to leave so quickly they did not have time to wrangle frightened animals from under beds or basement crawl spaces.
The two researchers — Leslie Irvine, a sociology professor at CU Boulder and author of the book “Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters.” and veterinarian Dr. Cassara Andre — also concluded failures in the emergency notification system and standstill traffic in the evacuation zone contributed to pet deaths.
Wind gusts topped 100 miles per hour when the fire started around midday on Dec. 30 and those winds pushed flames through dry grass and brush. The Marshall fire was unprecedented in Colorado, destroying more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Boulder County and causing an estimated $2 billion in destruction. Two people died.
When Marshall fire survivors tell their stories, the loss of beloved animals still brings tears. And those who managed to rescue their animals often list them as the most important things they saved.
Jim Curfman, 73, told his evacuation story to The Denver Post on Wednesday with his black Labrador retriever by his side. The dog, Charlie, was the first thing Curfman and his wife, Sandy, loaded into a pickup truck as they prepared to evacuate. They only took him and some extra clothes when they fled.
“He’s the finest black Lab going,” Curfman said as he described how much the dog has helped his family cope.
To remember the lost pets, an Arvada Girl Scout troop raised money to place a bench in the Autrey Park dog area in Superior, and Louisville Rising commissioned Michael Garman, a firefighter and artist, to create an installation to honor lost pets at the Davidson Mesa Dog Park.
Another Marshall fire evacuee, David Crawford, is designing an app to help pet guardians connect with trusted contacts to enter their homes and rescue pets during emergencies.
Before Crawford fled his home, he knocked on a neighbor’s door and discovered his German shepherd alone inside. Crawford was able to reach the neighbor and get permission to go inside to rescue the dog.
“In one square block that I drove around, there was a cockatiel, a tortoise, two cats and two dogs,” Crawford said in the university’s news release. “I had time. I could have conceivably saved all those animals.”