SUPERIOR, Colorado – A Colorado official says nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed, hundreds more damaged, and three people are missing after wildfire charred numerous neighborhoods in a suburb at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle also said investigators on Saturday are still trying to pinpoint the cause of the windswept fire that broke out on Thursday and darkened entire neighborhoods in the Denver and Boulder area.
Pelle said utility officials did not find any rundown power lines near the fire. He said the authorities were following a series of leads and issued a search warrant in “a certain location”. He didn’t want to give details.
A sheriff official who refused to give his name confirmed that a property is being investigated in the Marshall Mesa area of Boulder County, an area of open grassland about 2 miles west of the severely affected city of Superior. A National Guard Humvee blocked access to the property, which only one of several has been examined, the official said.
Officials had previously estimated that at least 500 homes – and possibly 1,000 – were destroyed in the fire, which was no longer a threat by Friday. Local residents are slowly returning to see the extent of the devastation.
The authorities had previously announced that no one was missing. However, Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said Saturday that it was due to confusion as authorities scramble to deal with an emergency.
Pelle said officials would organize funeral teams to search for the missing in the Superior area and in unincorporated Boulder County. The task is made difficult by debris from ruined structures covered in 8 inches of snow that was dumped overnight by a storm, 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 warned that the balance sheet was not final.
At least seven people were injured in the wildfire that broke out in and around Louisville and Superior, some neighboring cities
20 miles northwest of Denver with a total population of 34,000. It burned at least 9.4 square miles.
The snow and single-digit temperatures make for an eerie scene amid the still-glowing remains of houses. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still crept into the empty streets blocked by National Guard forces in Humvees.
The conditions exacerbated the plight of residents who tried to save what was left of their homes at the beginning of the new year.
Utility crews struggled to restore electricity and gas to the surviving homes, and dozens of people lined up to collect donated heaters, water bottles and blankets from Red Cross accommodations. Xcel Energy urged other residents to use fireplaces and wood stoves to stay warm and keep their pipes from freezing at home.
Families filled a long line of cars waiting to collect space heaters and bottled water at a Salvation Army distribution center at the YMCA in Lafayette, north of Superior.
Monarch High School graduate Noah Sarasin and his twin brother Gavin had volunteered there for two days, driving traffic and handing out donations.
“We have a house; no heating, but we still have a house,” said Noah Sarasin. “I just want to make sure everyone else has warmth on this very cold day.”
Hilary and Patrick Wallace got two heating stoves and then ordered two hot chocolate mochas from a nearby café. The superior couple couldn’t find a hotel and considered walking 2 miles back to their home; their neighborhood was still closed to traffic. The family slept in one room on New Year’s Eve.
Both burst into tears when a man walked into the store and joked loudly that he had lost his coffee cups – and everything else – in the fire. The man was in a good mood and laughed at the irony of the situation.
“I have space heating and a house to put it in. I don’t even know what to tell them, ”Hilary said, wiping away a tear.
Superior Resident Jeff Markley arrived in his truck to pick up a heater. He said he felt lucky to be “just evicted” since his home is intact.
“We’re getting on well, staying with friends and starting the new year optimistically. Must be better than this last one, “said Markley.
Not everyone felt it was positive.
“It’s bittersweet because we have our house but our friends don’t. And our neighbors don’t, ”said Judy Givens from Louisville as she and her husband picked up a heater. “We thought 2022 could be better. And then we had Omicron. And now we have that and it doesn’t start very well. “
Dozens trudged through the snow to check the condition of their houses and take their belongings with them.
Viliam Klein bent down in grief when he saw the ruins of his 100-year-old house in Superior for the first time on Saturday. Smoke rose through the snow-covered ash; a couple of neighbors passed by and carried what they could from their own ruined houses.
“At the moment, to be honest, I am simply overwhelmed and can no longer feel much,” said Klein. With his hands he sifted pieces of ash; Clouds of smoke rose from his gloved palms. He checked what was left of the neighborhood.
“You know the children’s playground is right down the street over there. And I can buy new books. I can buy new furniture. But it’s really hard to rebuild a community and friends and such a social network, ”said Klein. “I am sorry for my children that they will lose all of this. I’m sorry for everyone else’s children. “
Donna O’Brien teamed up with her son Robert to do the 1.5 mile hike to check on her home. “I think we’re still in shock,” she said. “This is our neighborhood and it happens everywhere, but it mustn’t happen where you live.”
The wildfire broke out unusually late in the year, after an extremely dry autumn and in a winter that was almost free of snow until snow fell overnight. Strong winds pushed flames that fed on bone-dry grasses and vegetation on farmland and open spaces interspersed with suburbs.
Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and forest fires more common and more destructive.
Ninety percent of Boulder County has been hit by severe or extreme drought, and there has been no significant rainfall since midsummer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before a small storm hit on December 10, the last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.
“It didn’t snow all winter 2021. No wonder that everything went like lighting, ”said local resident Viliam Klein.
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