The day after fast-moving wildfires devastated two Colorado communities, some residents were hopeful, as winds calmed and fire-snuffing snow fell on the region, yet worried as some waited to find out whether their homes had been destroyed in the unseasonal blaze.
The wildfires that forced the communities of Louisville, population 21,000, and Superior, 13,000, to evacuate Thursday were no longer considered a danger late Friday morning.
The fires, which erupted in an area about 32 kilometers northwest of Denver, had consumed about 580 homes, a shopping center and a hotel.
Because some roads were closed Friday, some residents trekked back to the ruins of their homes on foot to gather belongings such as clothes and medicine, which they stuffed in backpacks or pulled in suitcases or wagons. Some came simply to see if their homes were still standing.
In the blazes’ wake
Cathy Glaab, a resident of Superior, said she found the home she shared with her husband reduced to a “charred and twisted pile of debris,” with only the mailbox standing, according to The Associated Press.
“Just hard. So many memories,” she said as she surveyed the scene. Glaab’s home was one of seven houses in a row that burned to the ground. She said that despite the devastation, she and her husband planned to rebuild their home, which once had a view of the mountains.
Sophia Verucchi and her partner, Tony Victor, were able to return to their apartment in Broomfield, on the edge of Superior, and found that it was not damaged. The previous afternoon, they fled with only Victor’s guitar, bedding and their cat, Senor Gato Blanco, according to The Associated Press.
“We left thinking it was a joke. We just felt like we were going to come back. At 5 o’clock, we thought, maybe we’re not coming back,” Verucchi said.
They received an email in the morning, however, saying they could return home.
“Seeing the news and seeing all the houses burnt, we just feel very lucky,” Verucchi said.
State of emergency
At least seven injuries have been reported, but there have been no reports of any deaths or missing people, according to Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle.
“It’s unbelievable when you look at the devastation that we don’t have a list of 100 missing persons,” he said.
Pelle said that some communities have been reduced to “smoking holes in the ground” and urged residents to wait until an all-clear has been issued before returning to their homes.
During a press briefing, Colorado Governor Jared Polis was grateful that no deaths had yet been reported, especially considering that people had just minutes to evacuate.
“We might have our very own New Year’s miracle on our hands, if it holds up that there was no loss of life,” he said.
Polis also said he had spoken to U.S. President Joe Biden, who verbally approved a major disaster declaration to quickly distribute financial aid to people following the fire.
Gusty winds of up to 170 kilometers per hour stoked the fires Thursday afternoon and evening, enabling their rapid spread over 24 square kilometers (9.4 square miles). By late Friday morning, the fires appeared to be contained, Pelle said.
Last year, Colorado endured three of the largest fires in its history. Those fires were in mostly mountainous areas, not suburban subdivisions.
This year’s winter has been extremely dry in the state. Its Front Range, where most of its population resides, had a very dry and mild fall.
Scientists say that climate change is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.