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Jenny Simpson recounts home’s near-miss in Marshall Fire

CU Buffs' resident Olympian inducted into Pac-12 Hall of Honor

Former Colorado track and cross country athlete Jenny Simpson speaks during the Pac-12 Conference Hall of Honor ceremony. (Al Powers/Pac-12)
Former Colorado track and cross country athlete Jenny Simpson speaks during the Pac-12 Conference Hall of Honor ceremony. (Al Powers/Pac-12)

Jenny Simpson has never had to turn on the jets quite like this.

Like so many in Superior, Louisville and the surrounding areas, Dec. 30, 2021, began as any other day for Simpson, Colorado’s in-house Olympian.

Well, almost like any other day. That morning, Simpson planned to drive from her Marshall home to campus for an outdoor training session. However, in perhaps the first sign something ominous was in the air, Simpson postponed that workout due to the unusually high winds assailing the area.

Last week, Simpson caught up with BuffZone ahead of her induction into the Pac-12 Conference Hall of Honor, and she recounted her personal adventures during the sudden and explosive eruption of the Marshall Fire, which destroyed nearly 1,100 homes. Simpson’s home, near the fire’s ignition point, was spared. Many of her neighbors weren’t so fortunate.

“What makes Marshall’s loss a little bit different is it’s hundreds of years of history that is gone,” Simpson said. “There were old buildings that were there as Colorado was a frontier. To lose some of those things, it was a real, deep loss in the sense that it was people’s history really burning in the process.

“It was a really frightening day. But, our house survived. Our community is resilient. And now we’re just pouring our effort to facilitating the rebuild.”

Simpson said as soon as she and her husband noted the powerful stench of smoke filling the morning air, they began watering down their house, lawn and fences. Only minutes later, the first flames crept across their property line, and within minutes they only had time to corral the dog and grab what scant few possessions they could before fleeing the neighborhood ahead of the wind-swept flames.

In the months since, the Simpsons have hosted regular social gatherings for their many displaced friends to reconnect and, at times, vent and commiserate.

“We just said goodbye,” Simpson said. “We just said all right, that’s it, we’re going to come home to a pile of ash. Praise God, it’s a miracle we didn’t.”

So swift was the advancing fire that Simpson and her husband fled with no other clothes than what they were wearing, which had become soaked while hosing down the property in the violent wind. While all ended up being safe at the Simpson home, some mementos from her prolific career would have been spared thanks purely to luck.

Just days earlier, Simpson did an interview for the 50th anniversary of Title IX and was asked to bring along career memorabilia. That bag containing medals (like the 2016 Olympic bronze she won in the 1,500 meter run), shoes, and photos just happened to be sitting in a closet just inside the door.

“I grabbed that bag and the dog and that was it,” Simpson said. “Our clothes were soaking wet from being outside, but that’s all we grabbed. And the keys to the car. Thankfully we didn’t lose everything.”

As for last week’s honor, Simpson became the latest CU Buffs inductee into the Pac-12’s Hall of Honor who did not actually compete in the league. The conference has made a point of including all-time greats from CU and Utah since the two schools joined the league a decade ago, regardless of past league affiliations.

Simpson said she at least feels a connection with the Pac-12 thanks to her role as a volunteer assistant for CU’s track and cross country teams for the past 10 years.

“I never ran a step in the Pac-12. But, I’m a Buff through and through, and so where the Buffs go, I go,” Simpson said. “I really do feel honored to be inducted, but as a volunteer coach I do feel some connection to the Pac-12 because I’m competitive in that arena now.”