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Six months after the Marshall Fire, Layla Cornell still doesn’t know the cause behind the fire that killed Nadine Turnbull, her grandmother.

“I’m frustrated because I would just like to know how the fire started. I want to know if they’re still investigating,” Cornell said in an interview. “I just can’t let it go.”

But Cornell doesn’t want the lack of those answers to eclipse her grandmother’s memory.

At 91 years old, Turnbull remained an effervescent, loving spirit; an animal lover, quick to share words of comfort and the ray of sunshine in Cornell’s life.

“She was the sweetest human being you would ever have the pleasure of knowing. Every time she would walk in the room, it would just light up even brighter,” Cornell said.

Layla Cornell, left, with her grandmother, Nadine Turnbull. Turnbull was one of the two people killed in the Marshall Fire on Dec. 30, 2021. (Courtesy of Layla Cornell)
Layla Cornell, left, with her grandmother Nadine Turnbull, who was one of the two people killed in the Marshall Fire on Dec. 30, 2021. (Courtesy of Layla Cornell)

Cornell first moved in with her grandmother and grandfather when she was 7, and after jumping from house to house, she moved in with them full time.

According to Cornell, Turnbull loved animals. Their house, which was on land off south 76th street in Superior, had all kinds — goats, horses, dogs and a guinea pig.

Toward the end of her life, Turnbull’s mobility declined, and Cornell found herself in the position of becoming a caregiver to the woman who helped raise her.

“I would help her with her cooking, and she couldn’t walk very well on her own,” said Cornell. “And she couldn’t run.”

On Dec. 30, 2021, Cornell was outside their home when she smelled smoke in the air. As a Colorado native, Cornell wasn’t alarmed; she had smelled smoke from nearby controlled burns and far away wildfire smoke in the air many times before.

About an hour after she was outside, she noticed the sky turning ominously dark.

“The horses started to freak out, and all of the sudden, sparks started to come through our back door. Our backyard was on fire.”

Cornell told her grandmother they needed to get out. As she scrambled to gather their two dogs and their guinea pig, a next-door neighbor came in to help the two women escape.

“We tried to go out the front door, but it was blocked. The back door was also blocked by flames, so he opened the side door that we had, and there was barely enough time for me to get out. I couldn’t get my dogs out because the bigger one was freaking out. And my grandma, she was right behind me.”

Cornell never saw her grandmother again. According to a report given to 9News by neighbor Scotty Roberts, he stayed behind to help Turnbull. However, in an attempt to rescue her two dogs, Turnbull fell over, taking Roberts down with her. Roberts was able to free himself, but Turnbull was trapped in a tangle of dog leashes. Shortly after, the house was consumed by flames.

Cornell says trying to save her dogs was perhaps one final act displaying Turnbull’s selflessness and love for animals, which was passed down to her granddaughter.

“She loved dogs, almost more than I do now,” Cornell said, reminiscing. “I miss her voice, and her putting her hands over mine as she talks to me. She was a mother figure to me. She was my best friend.”

Farther up the road, in Marshall, Eileen Fournier believes that her brother, Robert Sharpe, succumbed to the flames on Dec. 30 under similar circumstances.

“We have heard various stories, especially from the police. I heard one story through Robert’s neighbor that there were actually a couple of policemen encouraging Robert to leave his house. Apparently, he was gathering things up to take because he had so much family memorabilia and things that were precious to him. I can’t imagine that he would possibly leave without trying to do that,” Fournier said.

Like Turnbull, Sharpe’s last moments may have been a bid to preserve the things he held dear in life. According to Fournier, Sharpe was a devoted son, loving brother and doting uncle, with a gentle spirit and meticulous work ethic.

Eileen Fournier, left, with her brother, Robert Sharpe. Sharpe was one of the two victims killed in the Marshall Fire on Dec. 30, 2021. (Courtesy of Eileen Fournier)
Eileen Fournier, left, with her brother Robert Sharpe, who was one of the two victims killed in the Marshall Fire on Dec. 30, 2021. (Courtesy of Eileen Fournier)

“He was extremely family oriented. He loved his family, and he wanted to preserve the history of our family,” Fournier stated.

Sharpe was one of five siblings. He had three brothers in addition to his sister.

“We come from a big family, so our whole family were all best friends. We did everything together,” said Fournier. “As an adult, he didn’t have any kids of his own, but he was dedicated to children. All of his nieces and nephews; he had wonderful relationships with.”

Fournier shared a story of when their mother was battling cancer several years ago. According to Fournier, Sharpe flew to the Bahamas, where their mother was receiving treatment, to be by her side after she was sent to the hospital.

“He got on a plane, immediately, sat by her bedside all night long, and made sure she got home on an air ambulance all the way back to Denver,” Fournier recalled. “He didn’t even think twice about it. He was such a wonderful caregiver to her while she was ill.”

In another instance, when their father was sick with brain cancer, Sharpe compiled old home movies and cartoons and had them transferred from film reels to VHS cassette tapes. He also recorded members of the family saying goodbye to their father.

During his father’s final months, Sharpe gathered the family and played the old home movies on one screen and comments from family members saying goodbye on another.

“He preserved our family memories,” Fournier said. “And we still have that cassette to this day.”

Fournier says Sharpe’s dedication to his family is what she misses most about her brother.

“I’m going to miss his tender, caring heart. He was always concerned with how we were doing, and how we were feeling. He was very sensitive emotionally to other people’s feelings, and other people’s needs,” she added.