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

"This drives home the fact that we really need to leverage better technology and get the system in place sooner than later, knowing that it's not perfect, as well."

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — Escaping the Marshall Fire was based on instinct for many in Boulder County who did not receive emergency notifications.

Karrissa Costilow and her partner, Dave Sandoval, lived in the Spanish Hills neighborhood in Boulder County, west of Louisville.

"We saw a message, I think it was on Facebook or something, that my roommate saw saying that there was a fire over by Target," said Costilow. "That was really only the notification that we got. No text, no calls, nothing."

They, like many who evacuated the Marshall Fire, did not have a landline and were not signed up for the opt-in emergency notifications to be alerted about dangers like a wildfire. Boulder County uses Everbridge to send emergency alerts to landlines and to cell phones and email addresses that users must opt-in to the program.

"He drove down the street a little ways, and that's when he saw fires," said Costilow. "From that point, by the time he got back to the house, we had about 10 minutes to get out."

Video provided by Sandoval shows a smoky drive out of their neighborhood fire on each side and mailboxes barely visible.

"As we're leaving, literally just every yard that we're passing is just engulfed in flames," said Costilow.

Credit: 9NEWS
Karrissa Costilow

She was driving in front of Sandoval with her roommate and two dogs.

"Trees were just falling in the road. You can see a branch on fire that just crashes in front of his car. I don't think he would have had much more time after that."

They lived in an area west of McCaslin Boulevard and south of South Boulder Road. According to Boulder County, that neighborhood received an emergency notification to evacuate at 1:15 p.m. If you had a landline or were signed up to receive it.

"Even 10 more minutes. If we had 10 more minutes, we could have grabbed so many more things. My partner lost his birth certificate, his social security card, his passport," said Costilow. "Thankfully, I had my medications, my passport and my social security card in a very small vicinity of each other, so I was able to grab mine."

A full-time nursing student, Costilow grabbed some quick essentials and little else.

"I didn't have any time to really grab any clothes or school supplies. I spent most of that 10-15 minutes grabbing the dogs, and all of their food and snacks and things like that," said Costilow. "When you have that short of amount of time, your brain kind of just stops working and you're like, 'What do I need?'"

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

RELATED: Have concerns about emergency alerts? Tell us

They did not receive an alert because Boulder County relied on the opt-in emergency notification, which they were not signed up to receive.

"No, I wasn't at the time. I'll make sure I am, forever, wherever I end up after this," said Costilow. " I mean, they send out Amber Alerts all the time. I don't know what all is involved in getting a system like that for fires. I think that would have been super helpful."

Those type of alerts are Wireless Emergency Alerts send through IPAWS -- the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.

Boulder County was approved to use IPAWS in August 2019, but never finished setting it up.

*This drives home the fact that we really need to leverage better technology and get the system in place sooner than later, knowing that it's not perfect as well," said Boulder County Sheriff's Office Division Chief Curtis Johnson.

Johnson was off on December 30, celebrating his wife's birthday at their Louisville home, but came in during the emergency. Johnson lost his home in the Marshall Fire. He was in the dispatch center where the emergency notifications were sent during the Marshall Fire.

"I can tell you, having been in the room, every emergency notification that we sent out from our dispatch center was sent out within minutes of it being requested," said Johnson.

He described a three-step process for the alerts to be sent out.

"It really is dependent on first responders in the field identifying areas that are in the fire's path or that are being threatened and relaying that information up, and as soon as we're told to send it, the dispatch center can draw it, map it, create the message and send it."

Because Louisville is its own municipality with a police and fire department, the city would be responsible for ordering evacuations for Louisville.

One of the areas of Louisville, east of where Costilow and Sandoval lived, did not receive an evacuation order until 2:51 p.m. Residents of that area east of McCaslin Boulevard and south of South Boulder Road have told 9NEWS that 2:51 p.m. was too late for some homes in that area.

RELATED: Sheriff's office division chief loses home in Boulder County fire

A Louisville spokeswoman will not provide information about that alert. Last week, she said "we're still looking into it." It has been more than four weeks since the Marshall Fire.

"Whoever is on the ground making decisions in the city of Louisville would notify us when and where they want evacuations sent. We would map it, confirm that's the area they want evacuated, create the message and send the evacuation notice," said Johnson. "It's not our place to make decisions for them. It's our place to provide them information, to be a resource for them and to fulfill their request and launch the notification."

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