Colorado fires: Hundreds of homes burn in ‘accelerating’ disaster | Weather News

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Nearly 1,000 homes have been destroyed in wind-driven wildfires in the US state of Colorado, as officials said it was a ‘miracle’ that no casualties had been reported until present following the devastating fires.

“It was a half-day, fast-track disaster,” Gov. Jared Polis said during a Friday press briefing. “Many families had a few minutes to get everything they could, their pets and children, into the car and drive away. It’s unimaginable.

Polis said he spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday, who endorsed an accelerated major disaster declaration for the region, giving residents and businesses easier access to assistance.

“We could have our own New Year’s miracle on our hands, if he confirms there was no loss of life,” Polis said.

The wildfires have injured at least half a dozen people and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents in and around two towns east of the Rocky Mountains near Denver, the state capital, Thursday.

“It’s amazing when you look at the devastation that we don’t have a list of 100 missing people,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Friday.

Two of the communities hardest hit by the fires, Louisville and Superior, have been placed under boil water advisories due to contamination fears, Pelle added.

Both cities — located in an area between Denver and Boulder — are filled with middle- and upper-class subdivisions, as well as shopping malls, parks and schools.

The origin of the wildfires has not been confirmed, but officials said at Friday’s news conference they were suspected to be linked to power lines.

Pelle, who gave the first damage estimate, said there could be more injuries – and also deaths – due to the ferocity of the fire, propelled by winds of up to 169 km per hour (105 miles per hour)

“It’s the kind of fire we can’t fight head-on,” Pelle said. “We actually had deputy sheriffs and firefighters in areas that had to pull out because they had just been overrun.”

Structures burn as a wind-driven wildfire forced the evacuation of the upper suburbs of Boulder, Colorado on Thursday [Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network via Reuters]

The fire burned 24.3 square kilometers (9.4 square miles), Pelle said. By first light on Friday, the towering flames that lit up the night sky were gone, leaving smoldering houses and charred trees and fields.

Officials said Friday that the winds had died down and snow was coming, and they did not expect the fire to pose more danger.

“Hopefully, the snowfall will help end the fires and recovery efforts can begin,” the White House said in a statement detailing Biden’s call with Polis, the state’s governor, Friday morning. “The President is grateful to all of the first responders who came to the aid of Colorado communities and families affected by the fires.”

Mike Guanella and his family were relaxing at their home in the town of Superior and looking forward to celebrating a late Christmas when reports of a nearby grass fire quickly gave way to an order to leave immediately.

Instead of opening presents, Guanella, his wife, their three children and three dogs were staying with a friend in Denver, hoping their house was still standing. “These gifts are still under the tree right now – we hope so,” he said.

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

Homes burn as wildfires ravage a development in Superior, Colorado
Homes burn as wildfires rip through a subdivision in Superior, Colorado on Thursday [David Zalubowski/AP Photo]

Colorado’s Front Range, where most of the state’s population lives, has had an extremely dry and mild fall, while the winter has been mostly dry so far. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before having a small storm on Dec. 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.

Jennifer Balch, director of the University of Colorado’s Earth Lab, whose research focuses on fire ecology, lives a few miles from the fire area and said the blaze was shocking for many reasons. She went for a walk on Friday morning, trying to get a better vantage point to see the fire damage.

“I felt smoke and snowflakes hitting my cheeks. ‘Winter wildfires’ should be an oxymoron, we shouldn’t be dealing with wildfires in late December,” she said.

Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and it hasn’t seen significant rainfall since mid-summer.

“Towns in Colorado are engulfed by wildfires and winds blowing hundreds of miles an hour,” Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said on Twitter on Friday. “Anyone who denies that we are in the midst of a full-scale climate crisis is not living in reality.”

Colorado officials say they are still assessing the extent of the damage and working to provide temporary housing for displaced residents. Rebuilding burned communities will not be easy, the governor said, thanking rescue workers, volunteers and first responders for their work so far.

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