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1 month after Marshall Fire, many questions remain

There are questions about how the fire started, why so few people got the message to evacuate, and what comes next.

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — One month ago, the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County. 

The fire started just after 11 a.m. Dec. 30 near Marshall Road and Highway 93 in Boulder County. One person was killed and another is still missing after the fire, which was the most destructive in Colorado history. 

RELATED: 'Energetically outgoing': Boulder musician remembers man killed in Marshall Fire

The cause of the fire is still in question. Was it a fire on a property where the religious group Twelve Tribes had been burning trash out in the open the week before? Was it an issue with power lines, even though Xcel Energy said none came down? Or did an underground coal mine fire, smoldering for decades, make its way to the surface?

RELATED: Wildfire expert: Marshall Fire may have started in multiple places as a result of multiple ignition points

There's no doubt, though, about what turned that first spark into a massive fire. Winds topping 100 miles per hour fanned the flames. Extremely dry grass offered plenty of fuel. Once the flames reached the first home, researchers said, the rest went like dominoes. 

RELATED: Wood fences found to be pathways for Marshall fire to spread between homes

Over the next three hours, evacuations expanded east into the hearts of Louisville and Superior. But 9NEWS has learned not many people actually got the message. 

Only one in five people who should have gotten the emergency alert confirmed they did. Many others had to rely on a heads-up from a friend or neighbor, or a deputy knocking on their door

RELATED: Resident of Spanish Hills neighborhood first learned of Marshall Fire on Facebook

Boulder County relied on a system that only alerted cell phone users if they opted in before the fire. The county was approved in 2019 to use a system that would have alerted all phones, but never finished setting it up. The emergency manager blamed a series of disasters. 

RELATED: Boulder County declined to have state send Amber Alert-like notification during Marshall Fire, official says

RELATED: Boulder County was approved to use cell phone alert system in 2019, but never finished setting it up

Recovering from Colorado's most destructive fire on record will be a long road, but help and hope are all around. 

"It brought us together," fire survivor Tracey Meyers said. "We know people we didn't know before. People are helping people."

On Monday, Boulder County Sheriff's Office said most of the initial investigative work was nearing completion including evidence gather, photos, interviews as well as reviewing videos and information from community tips.

The investigation is now pending the conclusions and reports from several experts and labs, which the sheriff's office said could take weeks or months.

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RELATED: Have concerns about emergency alerts? Tell us

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