Boulder County residents watch the Marshall Fire burn near Louisville on Thursday. (Chris Wheeler / Courtesy Photo)
Boulder County residents watch the Marshall Fire burn near Louisville on Thursday. (Chris Wheeler / Courtesy Photo)
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By Chris Wheeler

Heartbroken. There is no other way to describe the feeling of seeing your town aflame.

Watching the Marshall Fire burn Thursday in Louisville and Superior was like seeing a tornado churn in slow motion. The inferno’s devastating powers were coldly indiscriminate and hauntingly complete.

All those of us who call these places “home” could do was helplessly watch and wonder — “Has my home been destroyed?”

Louisville and Superior are two of the most unique communities in Colorado.  Both were born in the 1870s  from the coal mines that provided fuel for the growing towns of Boulder and Denver. Many who settled Louisville and Superior were immigrants from Italy, France and other European nations.

They came in search of the American dream. Despite enduring poverty, labor strife and racial discrimination, they built a community. The hardships the original settlers experienced forged a steely resolve that is manifested in residents today. Descendants of the old miners still live in Louisville and Superior. The annual Labor Day parade in downtown Louisville honors their legacy.

Despite the tremendous growth along the Front Range, Louisville and Superior have been able to maintain their small town character. Residing in downtown Louisville feels more like living in a small town in the Midwest than in the midst of a huge metropolitan area.

There is a civic pride and community here that is hard to match — or explain. When COVID-19 descended upon our town two years ago, residents were quick to support stricken downtown Louisville businesses. Many would buy gift cards knowing they would never use them. One resident left a $1,000 tip for a pickup order at a downtown Louisville restaurant.

These are the random acts of kindness that seem to happen every day in Louisville. In the past year, residents rallied to support Black Lives Matters and held seminars to educate townsfolk about the Native American legacy in Boulder County. Caring for others is not just lip service here. Residents routinely turn concern into action.

The people of Louisville and Superior are usually first in line to help others in their time of need. Now, it is the people of those towns who will need help.

The morning light will reveal horrors unimaginable. A day that began with hope for a new year ended in darkness, despair and destruction. Difficult days lie ahead.

But this much is certain — the people of Louisville and Superior will rebuild. Determination is in our DNA. In the ashes of our town is a fierce pride — and a spirit — that no fire can destroy.

Chris Wheeler is a Louisville resident, photojournalist and documentary filmmaker. HIs 2020 film “Coronavirus Winter: A Portrait in Black and White” told the story of downtown Louisville merchants’ fight to keep their businesses alive in the wake of the pandemic.