Three people are missing and are suspected to have died in the fast-spreading Marshall fire near Boulder, Colo., which has destroyed up to 1,000 homes. The fire began burning out of control on Thursday, decimating entire neighborhoods after hurricane-force winds swept through the area, spurring on the flames to engulf 6,200 acres overnight.

“In the blink of an eye,” the governor said at a Friday press conference, “many families having minutes, minutes to get whatever they could, their pets, their kids into the car and leave.”

“I was out doing errands when we got the evacuation notice,” Dr. Rich Kroll, a resident of Louisville—the hardest-hit area, together with Superior—tells “There was no time to return home; we drove straight to Boulder. I couldn’t even retrieve my tallit and tefillin.” Kroll hasn’t been allowed to return to the area but says he’s “confident we lost our house” based on aerial images he’s seen. He says many homes were lost near his, including a neighbor who had just completed a renovation. “It just went up in flames. The concept that G‑d runs everything—it was abstract until this happened.”

Kroll’s rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm, co-director of the Rohr Chabad Center at University of Colorado in Boulder, has reached out to him and other community members, offering help and support. Most of those evacuated have accommodation, says Rabbi Benjy Brackman, co-director of Chabad of NW Metro Denver in Westminster, just three miles away from the fires. Brackman spent much of Thursday at an evacuation center, speaking with and supporting the evacuees. “We’ve offered our Chabad center for accommodation,” he says, “and we’re calling people, offering to help. That means the most to them right now, that human connection and concern we show.”

A firefighter receives a care package from Rabbi Benjy Brackman.
A firefighter receives a care package from Rabbi Benjy Brackman.

Brackman says it’s been a traumatic experience for residents of the affected areas. “The police were banging on their doors, yelling to leave. They had no warning.”

One Boulder County resident who asked not to be identified had his home badly damaged in the fires. His community, Chabad of Longmont, immediately rallied around him and other community members who were affected. By Friday morning, Rabbi Yakov Borenstein, co-director of Chabad of Longmont, had sent him cash for accommodation, and prepared $1,000 gift cards for community members in need. “Our community has come together in support of the Louisville and Superior residents, financially and emotionally,” says Borenstein. “Rabbi, you have no idea how much this means to me,” the resident thanked Borenstein. “Chabad is a lifesaver.”

With many people quarantining with Covid, the wildfires and evacuation orders couldn't have come at a worse time. Chanie Scheiner, co-director of Chabad of Boulder, fears it will be a “destabilizing experience” for some. “It’s so important now just to talk to them, let them know someone cares.”

Scheiner was on her way to Superior on Thursday to deliver a hot meal to a community member there who was isolating, when she was forced to turn around. The road was closed, with a tractor-trailer overturned on the highway. Her friend in Superior hadn’t yet heard about the fires when Scheiner told her she wouldn’t be able to come. “Half-an-hour later, she was evacuated.”

Her husband, Rabbi Pesach Scheiner, was fetching his kids from a neighboring rabbi who had offered to pick them up from school in Denver on Thursday. It should have been a 15-minute drive for him. Instead, “it was like a war zone outside. Total chaos. There was smoke everywhere, and the winds were terrifying. It took three hours to get them home.”

It’s not only the flames that are destroying property; the ferocious winds that fueled the fires’ fast spread are something locals have never experienced before. At the Wilhelms’ Chabad center, an outdoor structure they’d built for Covid-friendly gatherings was blown apart. “All our events over the past year took place there,” says Wilhelm.

“We have a supportive and connected Jewish community,” notes Brackman, “and together we will put the pieces back together.”

Ari and Gisela Libertun, who were evacuated from Superior, receive a Shabbat package from Rabbi Benjy Brackman.
Ari and Gisela Libertun, who were evacuated from Superior, receive a Shabbat package from Rabbi Benjy Brackman.