Tens of thousands of residents have been forced to flee in northern Colorado after rapid wildfires destroyed around 600 homes.
More than 30,000 residents of three communities outside of Denver had to evacuate their homes after wind-powered grass fires quickly burned several buildings, including a Target hotel and shopping complex, as well as 580 homes.
The fires erupted outside Denver on Thursday, following an extremely dry fall and a so far almost snowless winter.
“We could have our own New Year’s miracle in our hands if he maintains that there has been no loss of life,” Governor Jared Polis said at a press conference on Friday, hours after declaring a state of emergency.
“We know many people only had a few minutes to evacuate and if this was successful by all affected families, it really is a testament to the emergency preparedness and response.”
At least a first responder and six other people were injured in the fires. According to Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, there could be more injuries – and deaths – due to the intensity of the fires, propelled by winds that blew up to 105 mph. Shovel noted downed power lines were believed to have caused forest fires.
“It’s the kind of fire we can’t fight head-on,” Pelle said. “We actually had deputy sheriffs and firefighters in the areas who had to withdraw because they had just been overrun.”
Shovel noted Friday that there were still active fires and asked residents not to return to their homes unless they were told it was safe to do so.
The towns of Louisville and Superior, located about 20 miles northwest of Denver and home to a total of 34,000 people, were ordered to be evacuated before the fires, which sent a smoky orange haze across the landscape.
Mike Guanella and his family were relaxing at their Superior home and eagerly awaiting a late Christmas celebration later when reports of a nearby grass fire quickly gave way to an order to leave immediately.
Instead of opening presents, Guanella and his wife, their three children and three dogs were staying at a friend’s house in Denver, hoping their house was still standing.
“These gifts are still under the tree right now – we hope so,” he told The Associated Press.
By early morning light on Friday, the huge flames that had lit the night sky were gone, leaving smoking houses and charred trees and fields. The winds had calmed down and light snow quickly began to fall, giving hope that it could choke the hot spots.
The White House issued a reading out loud of an appeal between Joe Biden and Polis on Friday, who said the president “assured him that every effort will be made to provide immediate assistance to people in affected communities.”
Sophia Verucchi and her companion, Tony Victor, returned to their apartment in Broomfield, on the edge of Superior on Friday, to find that he had not suffered any serious damage. They’d gotten away the previous afternoon with just Victor’s guitar, bedding, and their cat, Senor Gato Blanco.
“We left thinking it was a joke. We just felt like we were going to come back. At 5pm we thought we might not be back, ”said Verucchi. They received an email on Friday morning saying it was OK to come back.
“Seeing the news and seeing all the houses burned down, we feel very lucky,” Verucchi said.
Polis had warned spectators to stay away from the fires, saying: “Do not go towards the fires looking to see them. Onlookers point out obstructed roads. In addition, it is very dangerous. Stay away from fire areas and let our firefighters and first responders do their job. “
According to the National Weather Service, high winds knocked down power lines and large rigs overturned in the zone. More than 24,000 people power loss during the windstorm. Some residents were unable to open their garage doors as they attempted to evacuate.
Ninety percent of Boulder County experiences severe or extreme drought, and it has not experienced significant rainfall since mid-summer. “With snow on the ground, it absolutely would not have happened as it did”, noted snow hydrologist Keith Musselman.
Friday morning, local authorities survey mandatory evacuation orders that were issued Thursday afternoon for residents outside Boulder County, including those in Broomfield and Westminster, as cooler temperatures and lighter winds slowed the blaze forest.
Snow was expected in Denver on Friday, along with a 70% chance of precipitation later today. Meteorologists provide 2022 will begin with temperatures dropping to single digits in the region, with the weather warming on Monday.
Frank Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Recount The Denver Post said the snow will help settle the first one when it arrives, but the winds are expected to reach 10 to 15 mph, which will trap smoke from the fire.
“There’s just a lot of smoke and haze this morning and it’s not going to go away,” he said.