BOULDER, Colo .– A windswept wildfire that ravaged suburban neighborhoods between Denver and Boulder on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of thousands, may have destroyed between 500 and 1,000 homes, authorities said Friday morning , making it the most destructive outbreak in the history of the state.
The blaze, as intense as it was sudden, prompted tens of thousands of Boulder County residents to leave department stores and homes Thursday as fire trucks swarmed the area. Although forest fires were considered less threatening in suburban areas, particularly in December, a period of intense drought had created the conditions for the flames to spread, destroying homes, a shopping complex and a hotel.
“It looked like the apocalypse,” said Ruthie Werner, a resident of Louisville, Colorado, who had gone shopping at a Target store but arrived to find the parking lot on fire.
Gov. Jared Polis told a news conference that President Biden approved an Expedited Major Disaster Declaration, which allows those who have lost their homes or small businesses to get help before the preliminary damage assessment is carried out. He said schools and major hospitals in the area have been spared.
As Mr Polis toured the damage by helicopter on Friday, a video posted by a local television station showed how the flames struck seemingly at random. A house on a cul-de-sac would be destroyed, while the others appeared to be intact. In one neighborhood, a row of about 10 still smoking piles of rubble adjoined other houses that appeared to have escaped serious damage.
Despite the destruction, no deaths have been recorded, a figure Mr Polis said at the press conference would be a ‘New Year’s miracle’ if held up.
“It wasn’t a wildfire in the forest, it was a suburban, urban fire,” said Mr. Polis, a Democrat who lives in Boulder County. “The Costco where we all buy, the target where we buy our children’s clothes – all damaged.”
The blaze, which started late Thursday morning, burned in a “mosaic” fashion, encouraged by winds of 105 miles per hour. It burned down about 6,000 acres, said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, who added damage assessments were still ongoing on Friday. Authorities suspect the blaze was caused by a failed power line, but this has not been confirmed, he said.
Much of the fire has been contained, only a few parts of Boulder County still nunnery, he said. Heavy snowfall was forecast for Friday, which would help contain the blaze but could also cause pipes to freeze, officials said.
Louisville and Superior, both located about nine miles east of Boulder, suffered the most “catastrophic” losses, he said. Residents of those towns were ordered to evacuate on Thursday, as were residents of the nearby towns of Broomfield and Westminster.
Although there has not been an immediate official tally of the number of people ultimately displaced, around 200 people are currently being accommodated in emergency shelters in the county, Polis said.
Evacuees fled areas of fire under plumes of smoke that darkened the sky for miles on Thursday, unsure whether their homes would stay overnight. The roads and highways in the Denver metro area were congested with thousands of residents trying to flee.
“It took us almost an hour to get out of our neighborhood – it was full traffic jam,” said John Stein, who was walking his dog in Superior when he saw smoke in the neighborhood and heard sirens.
Thomas Maxwell, 25, said he was unsure on Thursday whether his parents’ house in Louisville was still standing. Mr. Maxwell, who lives in California, had kept a dog for them while on vacation in Spain. He woke them up with a midnight call to tell them that he had evacuated to a hotel with their two dogs.
“It was crazy how quickly it happened,” said Maxwell. “I read about forest fires in California all the time. Now I am living it. It is so different.
Wildfires in the American West have worsened – bigger and bigger, spreading faster, and reaching mountainous elevations that were once too wet and cool to withstand heavy fires. What was once a seasonal phenomenon has become a threat year-round, with fires burning later in the fall and winter.
Recent research has suggested that the heat and drought associated with global warming are the main reasons for the increase in larger and more powerful fires, as precipitation regimes have been disrupted, snow melts earlier, and grasslands and grasslands. forests are burnt in kindling.
Colorado experienced the three largest wildfires in its history in the summer of 2020, each burning more than 200,000 acres, Polis said. But those fires burned forests and federally owned land, he said, while Thursday’s fires destroyed suburban developments and shopping malls.
“As a millennial, I just look outside and see climate change,” said Angelica Kalika, 36, of Broomfield. “I see my future. I grew up in Colorado, and it’s a place where I had snowy Christmases and a beautiful 60 degree summer. But, for me, it’s a moment of deep awareness of climate change when there is a forest fire outside my door. “