Have you ever gotten the feeling that where you are or what you are reading about is somewhere you have been? As I read 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 findings 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 pushed the wildfire through Louisville, Superior, Marshall and unincorporated Boulder County. Likely the single most destructive event in Boulder County history, the Marshall Fire destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 homes and dozens of commercial structures, burned over 6,000 acres, and profoundly affected the lives of thousands of Boulder County residents. Tragically, the fire also claimed 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 Colorado history in terms of impact on urban areas and the devastation caused.
The Marshall Fire, as it is commonly known, consists of two fires. The first originated in residential property at 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive (“Eldorado Springs Fire”). The second fire occurred just south of the Marshall Mesa Trailhead, which is southeast of the intersection of Highway 93 and Eldorado Springs Drive (“Trailhead Fire”). Burn patterns, video footage and satellite images show that these two fires eventually merged, although investigators did not determine the exact time or location of that. However, issues related to merging the two fires are not relevant here, as this cause and origin analysis focuses only on how the fires started and whether criminal charges can be filed.
As a result, Mr. Way and investigators concluded that it was more likely than not that hot particles released during the December 30 extreme wind event ignited the Trailhead Fire. Mr Way concluded as follows:
The fire in the Marshall Mesa trailhead area was ignited by hot aluminum particles produced when the east phase of Xcel Energy circuit 1161 became detached from its insulator and the lashing wire from the east phase contacted the center phase. The evidence examined showed that the east phase had become detached from its insulator and that there was an electric arc on the center phase conductor and on the lashing which had held the east phase against 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.
For nearly a year, investigators worked with Xcel Energy representatives to obtain data from the electrical transmission system that included the disconnected power line and other documentary evidence. Analysis of this data tended to confirm investigators’ conclusions that the power lines were the most likely cause of the Trailhead fire. Specifically, the data showed that the circuit with the disconnected wire opened and closed several times on December 30, 2021. Circuits open and close this way when there is a fault. Although none of the events recorded in Xcel Energy’s data occurred at the exact estimated time of ignition, opening and closing indicate that the system experienced a fault or interruption on December 30, 2021. Additionally, information from Xcel Energy’s system indicated that circuit protection settings were not particularly sensitive , which means that the event that caused the suspected release of hot particles may not have been recorded. Xcel Energy requested and was granted an opportunity to meet with investigators and provide information. However, Xcel Energy did not produce any data or other evidence that caused the investigators to change their conclusions.
Merlin Law Group is proud to be of local counsel with Dan Whalen, representing insured and uninsured victims of this fire. We do not often accept to participate in third-party claims, unless we feel strongly about an issue and can work with other legal experts. The $1.1 billion recovery last year in the Champlain Towers Collapse Litigation is an example of us working 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 counsel. Public adjusters representing insured Marshall victims should make their clients aware of the valuable rights they have so they too can seek representation.
It’s deja vu again!
– Yogi Berra