Story at a glance

  • The devastating Marshall Fire tore through more than 6,000 acres in Northern Colorado Thursday, damaging more than 1,000 homes and businesses.
  • Witnesses believe the fire may have originated on the land of a fundamentalist Christian sect known as Twelve Tribes.
  • Authorities are warning about jumping to conclusions on what caused the blaze, noting the investigation is in its early stages.

Colorado officials investigating the devastating wildfire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Northern Colorado last week are looking at the possibility the blaze started on land owned by a fundamentalist Christian sect known as Twelve Tribes. 

The New York Times reports witnesses claimed seeing a structure on fire on the property Thursday before the Marshall Fire quickly spread across suburbs. A passerby captured video of a burning shed the morning the fire began, and officials said they narrowed the point of origin of the fire to a nearby neighborhood.

“The fire originated somewhere in that neighborhood,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Sunday, according to The Denver Post. “There was a viral video that was posted of a shed on fire. We don’t know that that shed started the fire or whether it was secondary,” he added. 

During a news conference Monday, Pelle was asked if the Twelve Tribes compound was part of the investigation into what sparked the blaze.


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“It is,” he answered, but emphasized that the investigation was still in its early stages. 

“We haven’t eliminated or honed in on any specific thing. It’s an open investigation. We’re going to do it right,” he said. 

“We’re going to do it well and we’re going to take our time and be methodical because the stakes are huge,” he added. 

Pelle said he initially believed downed power lines were the cause of the massive Marshall Fire based on “radio traffic” he heard when the fire was first ignited. He said crews later determined lines that were down were telecom lines and not power lines. 

The blaze caused about 35,000 people to evacuate the area, and more than 900 homes were destroyed, according to the Times. Authorities are still searching for two missing people. The fire burned across more than 6,000 acres Thursday, damaging homes and businesses in Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County, according to the Denver Post

A man who lives next to the Twelve Tribes’ property, which includes a pack of houses, told the Denver Post he believes he saw the start of the wildfire on the property Thursday morning.

“I don’t want to speculate, it’s still under investigation, but there is no possible way the fire started from any other place,” Mike Zoltowski told the outlet. 

A member of Twelve Tribes denied the fire started on the sect’s Boulder property. 

The religious sect was founded in the 1970s in Tennessee and has grown into a network of self-governing communities across the Americas, Europe and Australia, according to The New York Times. 


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Published on Jan 04, 2022