July 06, 2023
On Thursday, December 30, 2021, a small fire somehow ignited inside a storage shed on the outskirts of the tiny Boulder County town of Marshall, Colorado. Its first tiny flames quickly grew and spread into a nearby mini-ocean of tinder-dry prairie grass. There, lashed by roaring winter winds later clocked at 90 to 100 miles per hour, the blossoming range fire soon exploded into an out-of-control inferno that wreaked total devastation on the houses, subdivisions, and businesses standing in its path.
Some investigators, with good reason, later called it one of the worst and most expensive fire disasters in Colorado history. By the time the Marshall Fire was finally contained long hours later, some 30,000 area residents had been evacuated, with more than 1,100 of their homes and contents destroyed.
Among the evacuees were Colorado bowhunting legends Marv Clyncke (pronounced Clinky) and his wife, Judy Clyncke. As the flames and windblown fiery ash drew closer, they’d initially evacuated their home on the original Clyncke homestead/ranch along South Boulder Road. That’s where Marv was raised, met Judy while in high school, and continued to live after marriage while raising four outdoor-loving sons and a daughter.
But the fast-approaching firestorm abruptly sent Marv and Judy to safety in their married daughter Dawn’s home some three miles away. Once there, the couple kept close tabs on updated reports about walls of windblown flames still moving directly toward their house.
Naturally, the thought of losing their home and personal items — along with decades of family memories, big-game mounts, irreplaceable photographs, artwork, and treasured personal heirlooms — was terrifying.
I’d first shook hands with Marv and Judy in 1972 at the Pope and Young Club’s biennial convention in Denver, Colorado. A year later, Judy met me at the Denver Airport when I flew from Indiana to appear as guest speaker at the annual Colorado Bowhunters Association convention in nearby Boulder. We’ve been friends ever since, sharing bowhunts, P&Y and CBA gatherings, and a mutual passion for bowhunting that has strengthened our bond through the years.
When national TV news coverage of the Marshall Fire first reached our Indiana home in early January of this year, my initial comment to Janet was, “I sure hope Marv and Judy’s home isn’t in that fire’s path.” Little did we know then how close Marv and Judy came to seeing their house and its contents disappear in wind-whipped fire and roiling clouds of smoke.
It was only when I finally reached Marv by phone that Janet and I heard the sobering and graphic details of the Clyncke’s frightening story. Media coverage, including news reports and TV clips that Marv shared, provided terrifying first-person accounts of the unfolding disaster. And, as bad as it was, it could have been much, much worse for the Clyncke Family and other Boulder-area residents.
For better background perspective, readers should know that Marv’s first Bowhunter feature story and photos date back to the August/September 1972 issue. Titled, “Elk and a Plastic Pipe.” That debut article presented the once-unique concept of calling rutting bulls within bow range by imitating bugles and cow calls.
Seems an old rancher friend of Marv’s had made an “elk whistle” that he swore lured elk close enough to shoot. Marv liked the idea and soon crafted a similar whistle, but he used a durable plastic tube since bamboo tended to dry and split. Marv’s feature was the new magazine’s first article to suggest calling elk within good arrow range.
As for Marv and Judy, their combined list of bowhunting promotions, fundraisers, donations, and myriad personal accomplishments is longer than any longbow Marv owns and still loves to shoot. Both Clynckes are emeritus members of the P&Y Club, having long ago taken sufficient record-book animals to qualify as Senior P&Y members. Marv also had been elected to the Club’s Board of Directors, where he once served as First Vice President and as an Official Measurer during the past 47 years.
In addition, Marv was a founder of the Colorado Bowhunters Association and subsequently became the first bowhunter — or rifle hunter — to take all eight of his home state’s original big-game species: whitetail and mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, cougar, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and black bear. He’s also a charter member, life member, official measurer, and the first President of the Compton Traditional Archers.
Note: Colorado later introduced and added Shiras moose and desert bighorn sheep to its list of native big-game species. Marv arrowed a record-book Shiras moose after drawing a tag in 2017, and today, at age 81, still has hopes of drawing a desert bighorn license and completing his decades-long quest to tag all Centennial State big-game animals to complete the Grand Slam of North America’s wild sheep — all taken with his trusty longbow.
Speaking of sheep hunting, Marv has been on a total of 61 sheep hunts over the years, mostly helping other hunters get their ram but also personally arrowing Stone, Dall, and Rocky Mountain bighorn rams. And it was back on August 3, 2006, that Marv was at my side in the Colorado high country south of Leadville, when I arrowed a record-book ram we’d glassed and stalked. That made me one more indebted person on a lengthy list of successful bighorn hunters that Marv has assisted in making sheep-hunting dreams come true.
Helping others and raising money to benefit wildlife are two lifelong Clyncke traditions. Both Marv and Judy — members of the Colorado Bowhunters’ Hall of Fame — have donated considerable time and monetary support to numerous hunting and conservation organizations, clubs, and groups, while spearheading countless fundraising efforts. Notably, Marv’s talents as a custom knifemaker and gifted scrimshaw artist have generated tens of thousands of dollars in donations later presented to deserving civic and sportsmen’s groups.
More recently, although safely evacuated out of the Marshall Fire’s path near the dawning of 2022, Marv and Judy soon became increasingly concerned by the latest broadcast news updates. It was obvious that fast-spreading flames continued burning directly toward the Clyncke home. It seemed likely that only a miracle would spare their property.
That’s when Marv, unwilling to sit idly and safely on the sidelines, elected to drive back home and do whatever possible to save his house and its contents. Two grandsons, Matthew (age 33) and Owen (24), would join Marv’s battle to protect the Clyncke home, an additional family house on the property, a detached garage, storage sheds, and all their contents.
“We collectively said, ‘Not today!’” Owen remembers. “That was our plan — not losing our property.”
“I don’t remember thinking anything,” Matthew said afterward, “just that this fire must be stopped. We had to save the houses and outbuildings.”
By the time the Clyncke trio arrived back at the homestead, the howling wind was already dropping burning ash into the yard and surrounding fields. Grabbing water buckets and fire extinguishers, Marv and his grandsons were instantly busy dousing burning ash and sparks wherever they fell, keeping the buckets repeatedly filled and emptied.
When the onrushing fire finally reached electric lines and knocked out all power on the Clyncke property, including the water pump, Matthew used an axe to chop a hole in the thick ice covering a nearby pond to open another critical water source. In addition, shovels were used to dig dirt from a grassy ditch and smother new flame hotspots before they could spread.
Luckily, Mother Nature lent a helping hand when the raging winds subsided to “…only about 30 miles an hour.” In all, the Clyncke’s battle was waged for nearly six long and exhausting hours, bolstered later when a cousin, Scott, daughter, Katherine, and son, Edward, drove up to lend a much-appreciated hand.
“We were obviously not trained firefighters,” Marv explained later. “We were trying to save our homes and our lives is what we were trying to do.”
Even after turning back the advancing flames near his house, Marv worked on to save a nearby neighbor’s home and prevent flames from jumping across the paved road into an occupied subdivision.
Grandson Owen recalled that at one point he was facing a wall of flames taller than he was, standing not 20 yards from the Clyncke house. “It was the most scared I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Owen said.
No doubt the hectic hours spent saving the Clyncke homes and outbuildings were an emotional rollercoaster ride; making progress in one spot, only to see new fires crop up somewhere else. Unaccountably, twice firetrucks with trained crews rolled by the Clyncke property without stopping or offering any assistance.
One firetruck pulled into a nearby churchyard, where for a time the crew watched Marv and his grandsons battling spreading flames using only individual grit, a single garden hose, buckets of pond water, a shovel and axe, a pickup truck, and Bobcat skid-steer tractor.
“That was something I still don’t understand,” Marv said later. “I was praying the whole time we were fighting the fire. I kept thinking what a heck of a way to lose everything we’d worked our whole lives for to make sure the family had a good life, and it’s going to go up in flames.
“What made me more determined than ever to stop the fire was seeing so-called professional firefighters sitting and watching us, but obviously unwilling to help. I even thought about running over and pulling them out of their truck, but we didn’t have time to spare with the fire burning all around us. Honestly, we didn’t have time to be afraid we might die. That thought never occurred to us.”