Three people are missing and feared dead after a wildfire tore through several Colorado towns, quickly destroying nearly 1,000 homes as part of the latest in a string of US natural disasters.
‘We’re very fortunate that we don’t have a list of 100 missing. But unfortunately we do have three confirmed missing people,’ Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told a press conference.
At least 991 homes are thought to have been destroyed as the blaze raced through the towns of Superior and Louisville on Thursday, just outside the state’s biggest city Denver, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee with little notice.
Shocking aerial footage showed whole streets as little more than piles of smoking ash, destruction that appeared almost total but somehow left a few homes oddly untouched.
Pelle said the search for the missing had been hampered by the destruction and snow.
Louie Delaware embraces his wife Judy as his daughter Elise embraces her fiance McGregor Ritter after returning to the remains of their home in Louisville, Colorado
Homes were burned in the Marshal fire in the neighborhood between Harper Lake and S Centennial Parkway. The Marshall fire that tore through parts of Boulder County may have destroyed up to 1000 homes
‘The structures where these folks would be are completely destroyed and covered with about eight inches (20 centimeters) of snow right now.’
Investigators found no credible evidence to back earlier reports that downed power lines may have caused the fire, with Pelle stating that some residents may have been confused by downed telecom lines.
However, investigators have ‘executed a search warrant in one particular location’ as part of an ongoing investigation that Pelle described as ‘very active’ and comprising federal and state partners.
The fire, which was sparked in a tinder-dry landscape, was then fanned by winds gusting at more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour on Thursday.
‘This was a disaster in fast motion… over the course of half a day. Many families having minutes to get whatever they could — their pets, their kids — into the car and leave,’ Governor Jared Polis said, ‘just as in the blink of an eye.’
Debris lies scattered in the basement of a home destroyed by wildfire in unincorporated Boulder County, Colorado
At least 33,000 people in Superior and Louisville were told to flee, many doing so with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Pelle said he spoke to the granddaughter of one of the missing on Saturday morning.
‘They’re trying to find grandma. And we’re trying to find grandma for her,’ he said. ‘But the conditions right now don’t make that possible to do quickly.’
While snowfall had helped extinguish the fire, it was a ‘hard thing for crime scenes, and recovery efforts and damage assessments,’ Pelle said.
The fire, which occurred just before the New Year’s holiday, follows mid-December tornadoes in the state of Kentucky that left dozens dead and thousands of families in crisis mode ahead of Christmas.
Although fires are a natural part of the climate cycle and help to clear dead brush, their scale and intensity are increasing.
Scientists say a warming climate, chiefly caused by human activities such as the unchecked burning of fossil fuels, is altering weather patterns.
One couple returned home Friday to find the mailbox about the only thing left standing. Charred cars and a burned trampoline lay outside smoldering houses.
On some blocks, homes reduced to smoking ruins stood next to ones practically unscathed by the flames.
A burned out car sits in the middle of the road amidst the remnants of a wildfire in Louisville, Colo., on Frida
Pictured: John Peer finds a couple of plates as he looks through the rubble of his fire-damaged home after the Marshall Wildfire in Louisville, Colorado, Friday
Renato D’Amario, left, hugs neighbor Lori Peer after finding their homes destroyed, Friday, while neighbors embrace after seeing the destruction left by the Marshall Wildfire, right
The wildfire broke out unusually late in the year, following an extremely dry fall and amid a winter nearly devoid of snow so far.
The sheriff said some communities were reduced to just ‘smoking holes in the ground. He urged residents to wait for the all-clear to go back because of the danger of fire and fallen power lines.
Cathy Glaab found that her home in the town of Superior where she lives with her husband had been turned into a pile of charred and twisted debris. It was one of seven houses in a row that burned to the ground.
‘The mailbox is standing,’ Glaab said, trying to crack a smile through tears. She added sadly. ‘So many memories.’
Despite the devastation, she said they intend to rebuild the house they had since 1998. They love that the land backs up to a natural space, and they have a view of the mountains from the back.
Pictured: a view of a Boulder County neighborhood that was destroyed by a wildfire is seen from a Colorado National Guard helicopter during a flyover by Gov. Jared Polis on Friday
Rick Dixon feared there would be nothing to return to after he saw firefighters try to save his burning home on the news. On Friday, Dixon, his wife and 21-year-old son found it mostly gutted with a gaping hole in the roof but still standing.
Only smoldering rubble remained where several neighboring homes once stood in a row immediately next to theirs.
‘We thought we lost everything,’ he said, as he held his mother-in-law’s china in padded containers. They also retrieved sculptures that belonged to Dixon´s father and piles of clothes still on hangers.
The wildfire erupted Thursday in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring towns about 20 miles northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.
Tens of thousands were ordered to flee as the flames swept over drought-stricken neighborhoods with alarming speed, propelled by guests up to 105 mph.
At a Costco in Superior, two store employees came running toward the checkout lines, one of them shouting, ‘Everyone evacuate, evacuate, evacuate!’ said Katrina Peterson, who was inside.
Pictured: a burned out car sit in the driveway of a home destroyed by the Marshall Wildfire in Louisville
A fire still burns in a home destroyed by the Marshall Wildfire in Louisville
Pictured: a man reacts to seeing the remains of her mother-in-law’s home destroyed by the Marshall Wildfire
A video she made showed dark skies and whirling debris outside. The falling ash filled her ears, and she had to squint to keep it from getting in her eyes. The store was left standing.
With some roads still closed Friday, people walked back to their homes to get clothes or medicine, turn the water off to prevent the pipes from freezing, or see if they still had a house.
They left carrying backpacks and pulling suitcases or wagons down the sidewalk.
David Marks stood on a hillside 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 for sure whether his place was OK. He said at least three friends lost their homes.
He had watched from the hillside as the neighborhood burned.
‘By the time I got up here, the houses were completely engulfed,’ he said.
‘I mean, it happened so quickly. I’ve never seen anything like that. … Just house after house, fences, just stuff flying through the air, just caught on fire.’
A woman cries as she sees her burnt down home. Tens of thousands of Coloradans driven from their homes by a wind-whipped wildfire anxiously waited to see what was left of them Friday
A Firefighter puts water on a hot spot after a wildfire in Louisville, Colorado, Friday
Renato D’Amario, pictured center, tries to open his safe with family members Francisco Declaw, right, and Jessica DeClaw, left, after finding his home destroyed
By first light Friday, the towering flames that had lit up the night sky had subsided and the winds had died down. Light snow soon began to fall, and the blaze, which burned at least 9.4 square miles, was no longer considered an immediate threat.
‘We might have our very own New Year’s miracle on our hands if it holds up that there was no loss of life,’ Governor Jared Polis said, noting that many people had just minutes to evacuate.
Sarah Owens, her husband, adult son and their dog got out of their Superior home within ten minutes of learning about the evacuation from a Facebook post.
But as everyone tried leaving by way of the winding streets of the well-to-do Rock Creek neighborhood, it took them one and a half hours to go 2 miles.
‘The good news is I think our house may be OK,’ Owens said.
But from now on, she said, she plans to have a bag packed in case of another fire.
‘I never thought a brush fire could cause this kind of destruction,’ Owens said.
Residents fight the Marshall Fire in Louisville, Colorado, Thursday, as fire crews worked through the night battling the blaze that had destroyed more than 500 home
The Marshall Fire continues to burn out of control on December 30, 2021 in Broomfield, Colorado
Renato D’Amario looks over what remains after finding his home destroyed by the Marshall Wildfire in Louisville, Colorado, Friday
‘I want to stay here. No matter where you live, there are always going to be natural disasters.’
Superior and Louisville are filled with middle- and upper-middle-class subdivisions with shopping centers, parks and schools. The area is between Denver and Boulder, home to the University of Colorado.
Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and it hasn’t seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer.
Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before it got a small storm on December 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.
Bruce and Mary Janda faced the loss of their Louisville home of 25 years in person Friday after learning it had been destroyed through a neighbor’s photos.
‘We knew that the house was totaled, but I felt the need to see it, see what the rest of the neighborhood looked like,’ Bruce Janda said.
‘We’re a very close knit community on this street. We all know each other and we all love each other. It’s hard to see this happen to all of us.’