Nearly 1,000 homes destroyed, 3 missing after Colorado wildfire, officials say

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A Colorado official says nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed, hundreds more were damaged and three people are missing after a wildfire charred many neighborhoods in a suburban area at the base of the Rocky Mountains.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle also said Saturday that investigators are still trying to find the cause of the fire that broke out Thursday and blackened entire neighborhoods in the Denver-Boulder area.

Pelle said utility officials found no power lines falling around where the fire broke out. He said authorities were pursuing a series of tips and had executed a search warrant at “a specific 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 ​​Boulder County, a region of open prairies about 3 miles west of the town of Superior. . A National Guard Humvee blocked access to the property, which was just one of several being investigated, the official said.

Officials had previously estimated that at least 500 homes – and possibly 1,000 – had been destroyed by the fire, which was no longer a threat on Friday. Residents have begun to slowly return to see the scale of the devastation.

Authorities had previously said no one was missing. But Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said Saturday that this was due to the inherent confusion when agencies are struggling to handle an emergency.

At least 7 injured

Pelle said officials were organizing bodies of corpses to search for the missing in the Superior area and unincorporated Boulder County. The task is complicated by the remains of the destroyed structures, covered by 20 centimeters of snow poured by a storm during the night, he said.

People drag sleighs full of heaters as they check their home, which was left without heat or electricity by the fire, in Superior, Colo., On Saturday. (David Zalubowski / The Associated Press)

At least 991 homes were destroyed, Pelli said: 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior and 106 in unincorporated parts of the county. He warned that the count is not final.

At least seven people were injured in the wildfire that broke out in and around Louisville and Upper, neighboring cities about 30 miles northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000. It burned at least 24 square miles.

Snow and single-digit temperatures make a strange scene amid remnants of still-smoking homes. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeated the empty streets blocked by National Guard troops in Humvees.

A fire truck is moving along a road that separates the burned houses from those saved by the fire in Superior, Colo., On Saturday. Tens of thousands of residents were evicted from their neighborhoods by the wind-blown forest fire. (David Zalubowski / The Associated Press)

The conditions aggravated the misery of the neighbors who started the new year trying to save what was left of their homes.

Utility teams struggled to restore electricity and gas service to surviving homes, and dozens of people lined up to get heaters, bottled water and blankets donated to Red Cross shelters. Xcel Energy urged other residents to use fireplaces and wood stoves to keep warm and prevent pipes in their home from freezing.

Cold temperatures

Families filled a long line of cars waiting to pick up heaters and bottled water at a Salvation Army distribution center at the Lafayette YMCA, north of Superior.

Noah Sarasin and his twin brother Gavin had volunteered at the site for two days, directing traffic and distributing donations.

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

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Hilary and Patrick Wallace grabbed two heaters and then ordered two hot chocolate mochas from a nearby coffee shop. The Superior couple could not find a hotel and planned to hike about three miles back to their home; his neighborhood was still cut off from traffic. The family slept in a room on New Year’s Eve.

They both cried when a man entered the store and joked out loud that he had lost his coffee cups, and everything else, on the fire. The man was in a good mood, laughing at the irony of the situation.

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

Senior resident Jeff Markley arrived at his truck to pick up a heater. He said he was fortunate to have been “just displaced” as his home is intact.

“We’re settling in, staying with friends and optimistic for the new year. We need to be better than the latter,” Markley said.

A burnt Christmas wreath hangs from a porch light in front of a house destroyed by a forest fire in Louisville, Colo., On Saturday. (Jack Dempsey / The Associated Press)

Not everyone felt so positive.

“It’s bittersweet because we have our house, but our friends don’t. And our neighbors don’t,” said Louisville resident Judy Givens as she grabbed a stove with her husband. “We thought 2022 could be better. And then we had Omicron. And now we have that, and it’s not starting very well.”

Some residents return to the ruins

Dozens walked through the snow to determine the condition of their homes and grab their belongings.

Viliam Klein bowed in pain when she first saw the ruins of her 100-year-old home in Superior on Saturday. The smoke rose from the snow-covered ashes; a few neighbors passed by, taking what they could from their own destroyed houses.

“Right now I’m sincerely overwhelmed and I can’t hear much anymore,” Klein said. He sifted through the ashes with his hands; sticks of smoke rose from his gloved palms. He studied what was left of the neighborhood.

Snow covered the wreckage of homes on Saturday on Mulberry Street in Louisville, Colorado. (Jack Dempsey / The Associated Press)

“You know the children’s playground is down the street. And I can buy new books. I can buy new furniture. But it’s very difficult to rebuild a community and friends and a social network like this,” Klein said. “” I am saddened by my children losing all this. I am sad for the children of others. “

Donna O’Brien met her son Robert to take the 2.5-mile walk to see what her home was like. “I think we’re still in a state of shock,” he said. “This is our neighborhood and it’s happening everywhere, but it’s not supposed to happen where you live.”

Drought-affected region

The forest fire broke out unusually late in the year, after an extremely dry fall and in the middle of an almost snowless winter until the night snowfall. Strong winds pushed flames that fed on dry grass and vegetation such as the bones of farmland and open spaces interspersed with suburban subdivisions.

Mary Janda and her dog, Nala, visit their burned-out home in Louisville, Colo, on Friday. (Brittany Peterson / The Associated Press)

Scientists say climate change is making the climate more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.

Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought and has not seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer. Denver set a record number of consecutive days without snow before a small storm occurred on Dec. 10, its last snowfall before wildfires erupted.

“It didn’t snow all winter in 2021. No wonder it all came up like a fire,” Klein said.

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