Passing down the torch

First responder reminisces about day of the Marshall Fire


Alex Randle

Firefighter Kevin Epperson works at the Louisville Fire Station 1. He was a first responder during the Marshall Fire on Dec. 31, 2021.

A year has passed since the Marshall Fire ravaged Louisville and Superior, and firefighter Kevin Epperson still jumps when the wind blows a little harder.
That day, wind speeds reached 115 mph. He stood in the middle of West Mulberry Street, watching as every house surrounding him was engulfed in flames.
Epperson feels the firefighters at Station 1 are a bit more on guard.
“I think we’re all a little more diligent,” Epperson said.
Although they manage calls the same, the impact of the Marshall Fire has left its mark on stations all over Colorado in one way or another.
“I think each of us that was on that fire is either affected, impacted, or saw it,” he said. “You know, we all carry memories from that, but I don’t think it changed my day-to-day life.”
Epperson’s colleague, firefighter Ryan Chreist, said that driving around reminds him about how devastating the fire was.
“It makes us even more diligent in making sure that we’re keeping tabs on everything,” Chreist said. “Not that we weren’t before, but just as a reminder all the time.”
They did everything they possibly could with the resources available, given the unprecedented fire conditions.
“We were very much at the mercy of the weather, specifically the wind,” Epperson said. “We do wish we had more ability to impact that, but we just didn’t. The wind was too much.”
Despite the wind, Epperson believes they did well with the resources available.
“We had everything engaged in every way we could,” he said. “We had over 100 other departments that responded either on the first day or two.”
Other departments from all over Colorado came to assist in putting out the colossal fire tearing through Superior and Louisville.
“Everyone within 50 miles to 150 miles sent resources,” Epperson said. “Which is typical when we see big events, but it’s usually in the mountains where they’ll bring in resources from all over. It takes a little while to get there and get organized. We had lots of people here within hours.”
It was all hands on deck.
“There were tons of organizations involved, including law enforcement and volunteer groups,” he said. “Even large animal rescue groups helped out.”
Police, fire, and civilian companies all came together to save what they could.
“We worked together as a unit, with other departments, and law enforcement really well,” Chreist said. “The community really pulled together.”
Epperson’s son, Joseph Epperson ‘23, admires his fathers’ efforts, but he worries about what could happen to him in the future.
“I’m really proud for sure,” Joseph said. “But you never know when that kind of thing might happen again. This was out of the ordinary and terrifying. I’m really proud he was able to help as many people and save as many houses as he did.”
The gravity of the situation didn’t hit Joseph in the moment, but as soon as he realized the fires were still rampant in Louisville and his father wasn’t home yet, fear set in.
Joseph had no idea where his father was.
“You just know your dad is there somewhere, but there’s no way to know where he might be,” Joseph said. “He could be in the middle of it, he could be in a field, he could be in a burning house. He could have been anywhere and there was no way to know.”
Joseph has been thinking about following in his father’s footsteps by joining the Louisville Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter.
“It was always a thought in my head that I wanted to do it,” Joseph said. “But when the Marshall Fire hit, I felt kind of helpless and powerless, like there was nothing I could do to help. That was harder than the actual fire itself.”