Colorado fire victims start new year monitoring destruction
SUPERIOR, Colorado – Overnight snowfall and freezing temperatures have added to the misery of hundreds of Colorado residents who have started the New Year by trying to salvage what’s left of their homes after a wildfire caused by the wind ravaged the suburbs of Denver.
At least 6 inches (1.8 meters) of snow and single-digit temperatures created an eerie scene on Saturday amid the still-smoking remains of homes destroyed in Thursday’s wildfire that swept through a suburban area between Denver and Boulder. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeated the empty streets blocked by National Guard troops at Humvees.
For the thousands of residents whose homes survived the conflagration, volunteers at Red Cross shelters distributed electric heaters as utility crews struggled to restore natural gas and electricity.
At least seven people were injured, but remarkably no deaths were reported in the wildfire that broke out in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring towns about 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the northwest. of Denver with a combined population of 34,000. More than 500 homes have reportedly been destroyed.
The blaze, which burned at least 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers), was no longer considered an immediate threat.
Families forced to flee the flames with little warning began returning to their neighborhoods on Friday to find a patchwork of devastation. On some blocks, houses reduced to smoldering ruins stand side by side with houses practically free from fires.
âFor 35 years, I walked through my front door, saw beautiful homes,â Eric House said. âNow when I go out my house is standing. I walk out the front door and this is what I see.
Cathy Glaab discovered that her house in Superior had been turned into a pile of charred and twisted debris. It was one of seven houses in a row that were destroyed.
âThe mailbox is standing,â Glaab said, trying to smile through the tears. She added sadly: “So many memories.”
Despite the devastation, she said they plan to rebuild the house she and her husband have had since 1998. They love that the land is a natural space and that they have views of the mountains of the. back.
Rick Dixon feared there was nothing to come back to after seeing firefighters trying to save his burning house on the news. On Friday, Dixon, his wife and son found him largely eviscerated with a gaping hole in the roof but still standing.
âWe thought we had lost everything,â he said, as he held his mother-in-law’s china in padded containers. They also recovered sculptures that belonged to Dixon’s father and piles of clothes still on hangers.
As flames swept through drought-affected neighborhoods at an alarming rate, propelled by guests up to 169 km / h, tens of thousands of people were ordered to flee.
The cause of the fire was under investigation. Emergency services said utility officials could not find any downed power lines around where the fire started.
With some roads still closed, people would walk home to buy clothes or medicine, shut off the water to keep pipes from freezing, or see if they still had a home. They left carrying backpacks and pulling suitcases or carts down the sidewalk.
David Marks stood on a hill overlooking Superior with others, using a pair of binoculars and a long-range camera lens to see if his house and those of his neighbors were still there, but he couldn’t tell with it. certainty if its place was OK. He said at least three friends lost their homes.
From the side of the hill, he had watched the neighborhood burn.
âBy the time I got here the houses were completely swallowed up,â he said. âI mean, it happened so fast. I’ve never seen anything like it.â¦ Just house after house, fences, just stuff flying through the air, caught on fire.
President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the region on Friday, ordering federal aid to be made available to those affected.
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.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said more than 500 homes were likely destroyed. He and Governor Jared Polis said as many as 1,000 homes could have been lost, although this is not known until teams assess the damage.
âIt’s amazing when you look at the devastation that we don’t have a list of 100 missing people,â the sheriff said.
The sheriff said some communities were reduced to “smoking holes in the ground.” He urged residents to wait until everything is clear to return due to the danger of fire and falling power lines.
Superior and Louisville are teeming with subdivisions for the middle and upper middle class with shopping malls, parks and schools. The area lies between Denver and Boulder, home to the University of Colorado.
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.
Bruce Janda faced the loss of his 25-year-old Louisville home in person on Friday.
âWe knew the house was destroyed, but I felt the urge to see it, to see what the rest of the neighborhood looked like,â he said. âWe are a tight-knit community on this street. We all know each other and we all love each other. It’s hard to see this happening to all of us.
Associated Press editors Thomas Peipert in Louisville, Colorado; Thalia Beaty in New York; Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report. Nieberg is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.
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