Officials: Nearly 1,000 structures destroyed in Colorado fire | national news
By BRITTANY PETERSON and EUGENE GARCIA – Associated Press
SUPERIOR, Colo. (AP) – A Colorado official said nearly 1,000 homes and other structures were destroyed, hundreds more were damaged and three people are missing after a forest fire charred many neighborhoods in a suburban area at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle also said on Saturday that investigators are still trying to find the cause of the wind-whipped fire that erupted Thursday and blackened entire neighborhoods in the area between Denver and Boulder.
Pelle said utility officials could not find any downed power lines around where the fire started. He said the authorities were seeking a number of tips and executed a search warrant in “a particular place”. He declined to give details.
A sheriff’s official who declined to give his name confirmed that a property was under investigation in the Marshall Mesa area of ââBoulder County, an area of ââopen grasslands about two miles to the west of the hard-hit town of Superior. A National Guard Humvee blocked access to the property, which was just one of many under investigation, the official said.
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Totals given by Pelle include barns, outbuildings and other destroyed structures, but the vast majority were homes, Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said on Saturday evening.
Authorities previously estimated that at least 500 homes – and possibly 1,000 – were destroyed in the blaze, which on Friday was no longer a threat. Residents slowly began to return to see the scale of the devastation.
Authorities had said earlier that no one was missing. But Churchill said it was due to the confusion inherent when agencies scramble to handle an emergency.
Pelle said authorities were organizing corpses teams to search for the missing in the Superior area and unincorporated Boulder County. The task is complicated by the debris of destroyed structures covered with 20 centimeters of snow dumped by a storm overnight, he said.
At least 991 homes and other buildings were destroyed, Pelle said: 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior and 106 in the unincorporated parts of the county. Pelle warned that the count was not final.
At least seven people were injured in the wildfire that broke out in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring towns about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000. It burned at least 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers).
Snow and single-digit temperatures create an eerie scene amid the still smoking remains of houses. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeated the empty streets blocked by National Guard troops at Humvees.
Conditions compounded the misery of residents who started the New Year trying to save what was left of their homes.
Utility crews struggled to restore electricity and gas service to the homes that survived, and dozens of people lined up to get heaters, water bottles and blankets in the homes. Red Cross shelters. Xcel Energy urged other residents to use fireplaces and wood stoves to stay warm and keep their pipes from freezing.
Families filled a long line of cars waiting to collect radiators and bottled water from a Salvation Army distribution center at the YMCA in Lafayette, just north of Superior.
Monarch High School high school students Noah Sarasin and his twin brother Gavin had been volunteering there for the past two days, directing traffic and handing out donations.
âWe have a house, no heating but we still have a house,â Noah Sarasin said. “I just want to make sure everyone has warmth on this very cold day.”
Hilary and Patrick Wallace bought two heaters, then ordered two hot chocolate mokas from a nearby cafe. The Superior couple could not find a hotel and were planning to travel two miles home; their neighborhood was still blocked from traffic. The family slept in a room on New Years Eve.
They both cried when a man walked into the store and joked out loud that he lost his coffee cups – and everything else – in the fire. The man was in a good mood, laughing at the irony of the situation.
âI have a heater and a house to put it in. I don’t even know what to tell them,â Hilary said, wiping away a tear.
Superior resident Jeff Markley arrived in his truck to pick up a heater. He said he felt lucky to be “just moved” since his house is intact.
âWe are coping, staying with friends and optimistic for the new year. It must be better than the latter, âsaid Markley.
Not everyone felt so positive.
âIt’s bittersweet because we have our home, but not our friends. And our neighbors don’t, âsaid Judy Givens, a Louisville resident, as she took a heater with her husband. âWe thought 2022 could be better. And then we had omicron. And now we have this, and it’s not starting very well. “
Dozens of people walked through the snow to determine the condition of their homes and collect their belongings.
Viliam Klein leaned in grief when he first saw the ruins of his century-old home in Superior on Saturday. Smoke rose through the snow-covered ashes; a few neighbors walked by, taking what they could of their own destroyed houses.
âAt this point, I’m honestly overwhelmed and not feeling much anymore,â Klein said. He sifted pieces of ash with his hands; billows of smoke rose from his gloved palms. He inspected what was left of the neighborhood.
âYou know the children’s playground is right down the street over there. And I can buy new books. I can buy new furniture. But it’s really hard to rebuild a community, friends and a social network like that, âKlein said. “” I am sad for my children that they are going to lose all of this. I am sad for other people’s children.
Donna O’Brien bundled up with her son Robert to make the 1.5 mile drive to check out their house. âI think we are still in shock,â she said. âIt’s our neighborhood and it’s happening everywhere else, but it’s not supposed to happen where you live. “
The wildfire broke out exceptionally late in the year, following an extremely dry fall and the middle of a nearly snowless winter until overnight snowfall. High winds pushed flames that fed on dry grasses and vegetation on farmland and open spaces interspersed with suburban housing estates.
Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
Ninety percent of Boulder County experiences severe or extreme drought, and it has not experienced significant rainfall since mid-summer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before there was a small storm on December 10, its last snowfall before wildfires broke out.
âIt didn’t snow all winter 2021. No wonder it all caught fire like small wood,â Klein said.
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