2023 Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Medium Newsroom finalist


About the Project

In the months that followed the worst natural disaster in Colorado history, KUSA-TV led a year-long effort to document the Marshall Fire’s destructive path using complex and not-so-complex investigative techniques.

Initiated days after the fire burned more than a thousand homes and killed two in Colorado’s Boulder County, the “BURNED” project sought to build an immersive, multimedia platform that would help its audience better understand how a small, seemingly inconsequential fire, exploded into a monster on the second-to-last day of 2021.

From a standalone website to a 22-minute documentary, “BURNED” represents a massive and unusual effort to combine traditional storytelling with new and exciting means of delivery.

At the core of the “BURNED” project is a collection of hundreds of pieces of videos and still pictures of the fire itself.

As the Marshall Fire raced into suburban Boulder County neighborhoods, it burned in front of an untold number of cell phones, law enforcement body cameras and home security cameras.

It all turned Colorado’s most destructive natural disaster into its most documented as well.

Starting in January and continuing through the spring, KUSA-TV’s Chris Hansen submitted dozens of open records requests seeking videos and pictures captured by the more than 100 responding agencies that also fought the fire.

KUSA-TV’s ORIGINALS team also sifted through countless social media accounts looking for additional documentation of the Marshall Fire’s path. We looked for metadata and sought hints buried within the videos themselves to help us pinpoint not just the “where” but the “when” as well.

The net result is the largest collection of timestamped and geolocated videos of any natural disaster in Colorado history. Visitors to the standalone website, for example, can see in minute-by-minute and location-by-location documentation of the fire’s unprecedented path.

This was never meant to be a project with traditional broadcast television at its core. This was meant to be immersive in a variety of ways. If you want to see what the fire looked like around noon on December 30, 2021, you are no more than a click away from that.

If you want to hear from those who saw the fire firsthand, a click will take you to their words.