US: Nearly 1,000 homes destroyed in Colorado wildfire

Investigators are still trying to find the cause of the wind-whipped blaze that erupted on Thursday



By AP

Published: Sun 2 Jan 2022, 11:28 AM

A Colorado official says nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed, hundreds more were damaged, and three people are missing after a wildfire charred numerous neighbourhoods 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 wind-whipped blaze that erupted on Thursday and blackened entire neighbourhoods in the area located between Denver and Boulder.

Pelle said utility officials found no downed power lines around where the fire broke out. He said authorities were pursuing a number of tips and had executed a search warrant at “one particular location.” He declined to give details.

A sheriff’s official who declined to provide his name confirmed that one property was under investigation in Boulder County’s Marshall Mesa area, a region of open grassland about 3.2km west of the hard-hit town of Superior. A National Guard Humvee blocked access to the property, which was only one of several under investigation, the official said.

Officials had previously estimated that at least 500 homes - and possibly 1,000 - were destroyed in the fire, which by Friday was no longer a threat. Residents have slowly started returning to see the scale of the devastation.

Authorities had said earlier no one was missing. But Boulder County spokesperson Jennifer Churchill said Saturday that was due to confusion inherent when agencies are scrambling to manage an emergency.

Pelle said officials were organising cadaver teams to search for the missing in the Superior area and in unincorporated Boulder County. The task is complicated by debris from destroyed structures covered by 20cm of snow dumped by a storm overnight, he said.

At least 991 homes were destroyed, Pelle said: 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior and 106 in unincorporated parts of the county. Pelle cautioned that the tally was not final.

At least seven people were injured in the wildfire that erupted in and around Louisville and Superior, neighbouring towns about 32km northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000. It burned at least 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers).

The snow and temperatures in the single digits cast an eerie scene amid still-smouldering remains of homes. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeated empty streets blocked off by National Guard troops in Humvees.

The conditions compounded the misery of residents who started off the new year trying to salvage what remained of their homes.

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

The wildfire broke out unusually late in the year, following an extremely dry fall and amid a winter nearly devoid of snow until the overnight snowfall. High winds pushed flames that fed on bone-dry grasses and vegetation on farmland and open spaces interspersed with suburban subdivisions.

Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Ninety per cent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and it hadn’t seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before it got a small storm on December 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.


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