Colorado Wildfire Destroys Nearly 1,000 Homes

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Officials continue to investigate the cause of a fire northwest of Denver as utility teams struggle to restore electricity and gas to surviving homes

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Officials previously estimated that at least 500 homes—and possibly 1,000—were destroyed. He had also announced earlier on Saturday that two people were missing.

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Wind-driven wildfires darkened the entire neighborhood in the area between Denver and Boulder.

Officials had earlier said that no one was missing. But Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said on Saturday that while agencies are scrambling to manage the emergency, there is confusion.

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Sheriff Pele said officers were organizing cadaver teams to search for missing people in the Superior area and in unincorporated Boulder County. He said the task is complicated by the debris of the destroyed structure covered with 8 inches of snow from the overnight storm.

At least 991 homes were destroyed, Sheriff Pele said: 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior and 106 in unincorporated parts of the county. Hundreds more were damaged. He cautioned that the tally is not final.

The cause of the fire was being investigated. Sheriff Pele said utility officials could not find any power lines around the site of the fire. He said the officers were following several tactics and had executed a search warrant at “a particular location”. He declined to give details.

At least seven people were injured in wildfires in the neighboring cities of Louisville and Superior, and about 20 miles northwest of nearby Denver, with a combined population of 34,000. More than 500 houses are feared destroyed.

The fire, which burned at least 9.4 square miles, was no longer considered an immediate threat—especially after the dumping of snow and freezing temperatures overnight on Saturday.

The bitter cold added to the misery of Colorado residents, who started the new year trying to salvage the remains of their homes.

Several inches of snow and single-digit temperatures cast a terrifying sight among the still smoldering remains of homes. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeates the empty streets blocked by National Guard troops in Humvees.

Utility crews struggled to restore electricity and gas service to the remaining homes, and dozens of people line up at Red Cross shelters to get donated space heaters, bottled water and blankets. Xcel Energy urged other residents to use fireplaces and wood stoves to stay warm and protect their pipes from freezing at home.

Families filled a long line of cars to pick up space heaters and bottled water at a Salvation Army Distribution Center at the YMCA in Lafayette, north of Superior. Monarch High School senior Noah Sarasin and his twin brother Gavin were volunteering at the location. For two days, directing traffic and distributing donations.

“We have a house, no summer but we still have a house,” Noah Sarasin said. “I just want to make sure everyone else has warmth on this cold day.”

Hilary and Patrick Wallace pick up two heaters, then order two hot chocolate mochas at a nearby cafe. The superior couple could not find a hotel and were considering walking 2 miles to their home; Their neighborhood was still closed to traffic.

When a man entered the shop and joked that he had lost his coffee mug and everything else in the fire, the two burst into tears. The man was in good spirits, laughing at the irony of the situation.

“I have a space heater and a house to put it in. I don’t even know what to tell them,” said Ms. Wallace, wiping a tear.

Superior Resident Jeff Markle arrived in his truck to get a heater. He said he felt lucky to have been “simply displaced” as his home remained intact.

“We are done, staying with friends, and are excited for the new year. This should be better than the last one,” Mr. Markley said.

Not everyone felt that positive.

“It’s bitter because we have our house, but we don’t have friends. And our neighbors don’t,” said Louisville resident Judy Givens as she picked up a heater with her husband, Rusty. “We thought 2022 would be better. could. And then we had Omicron. And now we have it, and it’s not getting off to a great start.”

Dozens of people crossed the snow to check the location of their homes and retrieve their belongings.

Brian Williams, a resident of Superior, used a sledge to get his son out of the house when the fire broke out. It survived the fire but was filled with ashes and lacked utilities. “We had to get our badges for work and medicine and stuff,” Williams said.

Donna O’Brien along with her son Robert made the 1.5-mile trek to check in at their home. “I think we’re still in shock,” she said. “It’s our neighborhood and it happens everywhere, but it shouldn’t be where you live.”

Wildfires erupted unusually late in the year, following an extremely dry fall and a winter between until overnight snowfall. Scientists say the weather is getting worse due to climate change and wildfires are becoming more frequent and destructive.

About 90% of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and has not seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before a minor storm hit on December 10, its last snowfall before wildfires.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press

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