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Letter to the editor: Tracy Koller: My neighborhood is forever changed because of a fire that never should have happened

"Over the past week, I have agonized about how something so simple, like a grass fire, could destroy 1,084 structures in my beloved Boulder County."
Homes burn as wildfires rip through a development near Rock Creek Village Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, near Broomfield, Colo. Homes surrounding the Flatiron Crossing mall were being evacuated as wildfires raced through the grasslands as high winds raked the intermountain West. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


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My name is Tracy Koller and I write on behalf of myself and my fellow board members at PSR Colorado (Physicians for Social Responsibility). I am a family nurse practitioner, former CDPHE employee, volunteer on the town of Superior’s Open Space Advisory Committee and Superior resident.

Over the past week, I have agonized about how something so simple, like a grass fire, could destroy 1,084 structures in my beloved Boulder County, 378 homes in my town of Superior alone, destroy half of my street, and cause loss of life.  As I was evacuated on December 30th, still unaware of the proximity or extent of the fire, I worried more about my car blowing over from the uncharacteristically strong wind gusts, which I have never before experienced in over a decade in Superior. 

The truth is, the Marshall fire shouldn't have happened. Half of my street is in rubble, not only from a grass fire that got out of control, but also from historically dry conditions, unprecedented wind gusts, and a severe drought caused by the climate crisis.  

As a healthcare professional, I am keenly aware of the negative health, safety, and social impacts of fossil fuel-driven climate change on humanity and the planet, as well as the health effects of home fossil fuel use on our families and children. These include premature death, cancers, birth defects, respiratory diseases, neurological problems and many more. Specific lingering exposures from the Marshall fire will likely include extremely high smoke particulate levels, toxins such as volatile organic compounds emitted from burned homes, and possible radionuclide exposure from dust blown in from the nearby Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge.

The Marshall fire incinerated over 1,000 homes and countless belongings, from cherished heirlooms and childrens’ bedtime blankets to primary vehicles and, horrifically, family pets. Even more heartbreaking, the loss of one life has been confirmed.

After traveling the globe and living all over this country, I fully appreciate the magic of Boulder County — its nature, open spaces, and people. While a portion of its nature and open spaces were charred by the Marshall fire, its people, my neighbors, are resilient and inspiring.  

But I wonder, what will be the next treasured neighborhood to go up in flames?  Scientific evidence shows that there will be more such climate events, they will be often, and, tragically, they will get worse.

I join my fellow PSR Colorado board members in calling upon Governor Polis, Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper, and all state legislators and agency officials to use this tragedy as a jumping point to aggressively limit fossil fuel production and to reduce Colorado’s contribution to the climate crisis.  We are ready to stand with those officials willing to take action.

Tracy Koller MS, FNP, NP, RN