LOUISVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – The work is progressing in the Cornerstone neighborhood of Louisville. Most of the homesites are cleared, with a few yet to be completed, some awaiting private contractors to start. As the rebuilding moves forward a multi-agency report about the Marshall Fire and the reaction to it has rattled people again.
“However you call it clearly something broke down. And there needs to be an acknowledgement that something broke down,” said Rebecca Whalen as she stood in front of the land where her home once stood. “The only thing that alerted me to the proximity was my neighbors and a text chain that started.”
What they didn’t get here were timely evacuation notices.
“Those neighborhoods were evacuated at 1:15 and on the other far other side, the neighborhood was evacuated at 1:25,” pointed neighbor Tawnya Somouroo. The Cornerstone neighborhood was held due to traffic backups according to the Marshall Fire Operational After-Action Report. “If this would have happened at 2 a.m. If my neighbors weren’t on a text chain. If I didn’t have another neighbor who drove through the neighborhood screaming, ‘The fire is across the street, get out now!’ I really shudder to think of what really could have happened,” said Whalen.
Somouroo sent a letter from neighbors to the city asking for a public meeting.
“People are certainly totally entitled to be upset,” said Mayor Ashley Stolzmann. “I have heard from them from January right after the fire, just in the days after the fire about their concerns.”
People in the Cornerstone neighborhood have complained that no police or firefighters knocked on doors or turned on sirens to warn people to get out. Stolzmann says traffic was an issue and people have misconceptions about the traffic.
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“There were many neighborhoods evacuated but there was a point when a train came through town and we only have no crossing to the east out of town that’s not blocked by the tracks. When the train blocked all of the exits it really created a gigantic traffic problem.”
She said that’s why there needs to be additional coordination between agencies and other entities like the railroad.
“The fire was moving so quickly and our systems that we have in place were deficient.”
Somouroo says had people been given warning sooner, getting out would have been easier.
“When I left there was a half hour traffic jam and the people who left not long after sat in traffic for at least two hours trying to safely get away.”
Whalen says she understands the incident was unprecedented.
“Certainly what went wrong is in the past but it needs to be critically examined. If not just for this community, but for other communities looking to plan that should be planning for this very scenario.”
Stolzmann believes the area needs a re-configuration in the evacuation system.
“In western parts of Boulder County neighborhoods have these polygons drawn over them so that the sheriff can just hit a button and evacuate neighborhood by neighborhood,” she said. “We want to have polygons drawn. We want to have evacuation routes, we want coordination between the agencies. So there’s a lot of work to do.”
She says she hopes to have a public meeting on it sooner than one currently planned with Superior in August. Whalen believes the report needed to include information about issues like theirs to be useful.
“We really need to take critical look. A very clear eyed view of what really happened and what needs to be done.”