Colorado wildfires force evacuations as hundreds of homes burn

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and nearly 600 homes destroyed in forest fires outside Denver, officials said.

At least one first responder and six others were injured, although Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle admitted that with winds of up to 105 mph, there were more injuries and due to the intensity of the fires that swept quickly across the area Fatalities could be possible.

The first fire broke out shortly before 10:30 am Thursday and was “attacked fairly quickly and put down later in the day and is currently under surveillance” with no structure lost, Pelle said.

A second wildfire, reported shortly after 11 a.m., “ballooned and spread rapidly east,” Pelle said. The fire covers 2.5 square miles and has shrouded parts of the area in a smoky, orange sky, keeping residents safe.

The activity of the fires, which have already ravaged an estimated 850 homes, will depend on how the winds behave overnight and could determine when crews can step in and begin assessing the damage and searching for victims.

Mr Pelle said: “We cannot fight this type of fire directly. We actually had deputy sheriffs and firefighters in areas that had to leave because they were being overrun. “

Evacuations were ordered for the city of Louisville with about 21,000 residents and Superior with a further 13,000 residents.

The neighboring cities are about 20 miles northwest of Denver in an area full of middle and upper middle classes, surrounded by shopping centers, parks and schools.

Residents evacuated relatively calmly and orderly, but the winding streets in the suburbs quickly clogged as people tried to get out.

In surprising places, small fires popped up here and there – on the grass in a median or in a dumpster in the middle of a parking lot – as gusts of wind jumped the fire and spread. Shifting winds turned the sky from clear to smoky and then back again as the emergency sirens howled nearby.

Some of the multiple fires in the area on Thursday were triggered by rundown power lines.

Six people injured in the fires would be treated at UCHealth Broomfield Hospital, spokeswoman Kelli Christensen said.

The Colorado Front Range, home to most of the state’s population, had an extremely dry and mild fall, and winter so far has been mostly dry.

Denver set a record for most consecutive days without snow before a small storm hit on December 10th. It has not snowed since then, although snow was expected in the region on Friday.

The fires prompted Governor Jared Polis to declare a state of emergency, which gives the state access to funds for disaster relief.

The evacuations come as climate change makes weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive, scientists say.

Much of Boulder County is suffering from severe or extreme drought and has not seen any significant rainfall since midsummer.

Snow hydrologist Keith Musselman said, “If there was snow on the ground, this absolutely would not have happened.”

Mr Musselman said this severe fire risk is expected in September and October after a dry summer, but the lack of rainfall this late in the season is highly unusual.

He added that the National Weather Service predicts that Boulder could fall to a foot of snow today (Friday) and that moisture would provide significant relief.

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