BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — Every first responder will tell you the same thing: As others run from danger, it’s their job to run toward it. That mantra went from cliché to near catastrophe last Dec. 30 for Boulder County Sheriff’s Deputies Elizabeth Cantwell-Ray and Peter Markusen.
“It’s a terrifying thought to think that you might not make it out of it,” Cantwell-Ray told FOX31.
“And there was a few times that I definitely thought, you know, my luck might have been up that day,” Markusen said.
The two were among the first crews in the fire zone as the Marshall Fire raged in Boulder County late last year, destroying more than a thousand homes and other buildings.
“Houses are literally exploding around you,” Markusen recalled.
Animal rescues and reunions
The deputies first talked to reporters in January, describing their experience with the most devastating fire in Colorado history. They recently sat down with FOX31 to talk about what’s happened in the year since the Marshall Fire, and the connections they’ve made with those they helped escape the flames.
Cantwell-Ray spotted a pair of dogs roaming through the smoke on a local road. She picked them up, put them in her cruiser, and got them to safety.
“I just went out and I was like, I need to save them. Something told me, you need to save these animals. So I went out there and I’m clapping for them, picked them up threw them in my car, went over to the sports stable to start more evacuations,” she said.
A highlight of the last 12 months was the reunion she had with the very animals she saved.
“Through social media, through YouTube, once those videos were released, the owners of those dogs were able to contact the sheriff’s office, get in contact with me, and they actually brought the dogs back in here to the sheriff’s office, and I was able to meet Gary and Elsa as well as their owners, and have a reuniting moment, and the dogs remembered me, which was phenomenal,” Cantwell-Ray said.
Four-legged fire victims also crossed Deputy Markusen’s path last Dec. 30. He and other first responders made a dangerous run into a burning neighborhood to rescue therapy horses stuck in a dead-end in the Spanish Hills subdivision. They saved countless horses as the fire bore down on them.
“Getting to go and meet Lynn, who owned the horses, and get to have her thank me and thank our team for saving her animals was pretty powerful,” Markusen said, describing a reunion that happened in the weeks after the fire.
Connected by the historic response
For two relatively new law enforcement officers, it was a career-defining day. And it happened early in their careers. And they say it changed everything about how they approach their job, and how they approach the threat of fire.
“You still get those PTSD feelings of, is this going to be another Marshall Fire? Those feelings just come flooding back,” Cantwell-Ray said.
It also served as a reminder of how fleeting your safety truly is, when it’s your job to run toward the danger.
“A lot of us who went through the Marshall Fire together have been very very close since then, and we all have this deep connection that we know to trust each other 100% out there and if we need something, we will be there hand over fist to help one another out,” Cantwell-Ray said.