Modeler Estimates Insured Losses From Colorado Wildfire at $1B

The Colorado wildfire that destroyed nearly 1,000 homes in late December will result in roughly $1 billion in losses, according to a report from catastrophe modeler Karen Clark & Co.

On Dec. 30, a devastating late-season wildfire started off of State Highway 93 and Marshall Road in unincorporated Boulder County. The fire was contained after the area received roughly 10 inches of snow on December 31

The blaze is considered the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. The previous record belonged the East Troublesome Fire in 2020, which destroyed more than 500 structures and cost nearly $500 million in insured losses.

Months of unusually warm and dry weather along the Colorado Front Range primed the environment for the fast-spreading Marshall Fire, according to the report from Karen Clark & Co.

“Precipitation had been at record lows in the region since July, and Denver had just experienced its second warmest fall season on record,” the report states. “The unseasonably hot and dry weather led to desiccated vegetation throughout the state, which can easily ignite and spread fire.”

The exact cause of the Marshall Fire is still under investigation, but the modeling firm noted that “an intense, downslope wind event that impacted the Colorado Front Range assisted with the fast rate of spread.”

The strong winds on the morning of December 30 were flowing nearly due east across the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies in the mid-levels of the atmosphere.

“By midday, an amplified mountain wave had developed over the Front Range and began to bring those strong mid-level winds to the surface, where gusts of over 100 mph began to be reported,” the report states.

The report notes that in Colorado, the wildfire season does not typically extend into the winter, as snow cover and cold temperatures prevent fire spread, but the Marshall Fire is part of a general trend of a lengthening fire season and drier fuels in the Western U.S. due to warming global temperatures.

The Marshall fire burned roughly 6,000 acres and devastated entire subdivisions throughout Superior, Louisville, and unincorporated Boulder County.

A breakdown of the damage totals by location is as follows:

  • Louisville: 553 destroyed, 45 damaged
  • Superior: 332 destroyed, 60 damaged
  • Unincorporated Boulder County: 106 destroyed, 22 damaged

The majority of damage occurred in Louisville, a suburban area about 20 miles northwest of Denver. Hundreds of homes and a large commercial area, including a shopping center and a hotel, were among the destroyed structures.


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