Ever get the feeling that where you are or what you are reading about is somewhere you have been? While reading the Marshall Fire Investigative Summary and Review, I kept thinking about where I was while watching and learning from Dan Whalen and his team at the Marshall Fire Town Hall, which I noted in What Were the Causes of the Marshall Fire? The bottom line is that Dan’s team’s theory of loss is very similar to the results of the criminal investigation. The insured and uninsured victims of the Marshall Fire have valid claims against Xcel Energy.    

Here is a quick partial summary of this significant fire loss investigation result:

On December 30, 2021, the Marshall Fire ignited near the intersection of Colorado State Highway 93 and Eldorado Springs Drive. Extreme downslope winds and abundant fuel propelled the wildfire through Louisville, Superior, Marshall, and unincorporated Boulder County. Likely the single most destructive event in Boulder County’s history, the Marshall Fire destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 homes and dozens of commercial structures, burned over 6,000 acres, and deeply affected the lives of thousands of Boulder County residents. Tragically, the fire also caused the deaths of 91-year-old Edna Nadine Turnbull, 69-year-old Robert Sharpe, and a significant number of pets. The Marshall Fire was unlike any other wildfire in the history of Colorado in terms of impact on urban areas and the devastation caused.

The Marshall Fire, as it is commonly known, comprises two fires. The first originated on residential property at 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive (the ‘Eldorado Springs Fire’). The second fire originated just south of the Marshall Mesa Trailhead, which is located southeast of the intersection of Highway 93 and Eldorado Springs Drive (the ‘Trailhead Fire’). Burn patterns, video footage, and satellite imagery show that these two fires eventually merged, though investigators did not determine the precise time or place at which that occurred. Questions related to the merger of the two fires are not relevant here, however, as this cause and origin analysis focuses only on the way the fires started and whether criminal charges can be filed.

As a result, Mr. Way and investigators concluded that it was more probable than not that hot particles discharged during the extreme wind event on December 30 ignited the Trailhead Fire. Mr. Way concluded as follows:

The fire in the area of the Marshall Mesa trailhead was ignited by hot aluminum particles produced when the east phase of Xcel Energy circuit 1161 came loose from its insulator and the lashing wire of the east phase contacted the center phase. The evidence examined revealed that the east phase had become detached from its insulator and that there was electrical arcing on the center phase conductor and on the lashing that had held the east phase to its insulator. The arcing on the east phase lashing and on the center phase conductor is conclusive evidence that the two conductors came into contact with each other and produced hot particles.

Over the course of nearly a year, investigators worked with Xcel Energy representatives to obtain data from the electrical transmission system that included the disconnected powerline and other documentary evidence. Analysis of that data tended to confirm investigators’ conclusions that the powerlines were the most probable cause of the Trailhead Fire. Specifically, data showed that the circuit with the disconnected line opened and closed several times on December 30, 2021. Circuits open and close in this manner when there is a fault. Though none of the events recorded in Xcel Energy’s data occurred at precisely the estimated time of ignition, the opening and closing indicates the system did sustain faults or interruptions on December 30, 2021. Additionally, information from Xcel Energy’s system showed that the settings for the circuit protector were not highly sensitive, meaning the event that caused the suspected discharge of hot particles may not have been recorded. Xcel Energy requested and received an opportunity to meet with investigators and provide information. Xcel Energy did not, however, produce any data or other evidence that caused investigators to change their conclusions.

Merlin Law Group is proud to be local co-counsel with Dan Whalen, representing insured and uninsured victims of this fire. We do not often agree to participate in third-party claims, unless we feel strongly about an issue and can team with other legal experts. The $1.1 Billion recovery last year in the Champlain Towers Collapse Litigation is an example of us working together with other attorneys as a team to successfully help victims of a tragedy they did not cause.   

I strongly encourage all insured and uninsured victims of the Marshall Fire to seek legal advice. Public adjusters representing insured Marshall victims should make their clients aware of the valuable rights they have so they can seek representation as well.

Thought For The Day     

It’s deja vu all over again!

—Yogi Berra