Colorado fires devastate hundreds of homes

Mike Guanella and his family were lounging at their Colorado home in anticipation of celebrating a late Christmas Thursday night when reports of a fire in nearby pastures quickly turned into a worrying pre-evacuation advisory and, within minutes, into an immediate eviction order.

The Guanellas were among tens of thousands of residents who were forced to flee their homes outside Denver as wildfires, fueled by gusts of winds of up to 169 km / h (105 mph), engulfed parts of two cities. and razed an estimated 580 homes, a hotel and a shopping center.

Instead of opening Christmas presents at their home in Superior City, as planned, Guanella and his wife, along with their three children and three dogs, were staying at a friend’s house in Denver and hoping that the yours was still standing.

“Those gifts are still under the tree … we wait,” Guanella said.

At least one firefighter and six other people were injured in the fires that started Thursday morning, unusual at this time of year and following an extremely dry autumn and winter that has so far left little snow. Boulder County Police Chief Joe Pelle acknowledged that there may be more injuries and even deaths due to the intensity of fires that spread rapidly through the region.

“This is the kind of fire that we can’t fight head-on,” Pelle said. “In fact, we had assistant police chiefs and firefighters in areas where they had to withdraw because they were simply outmatched.”

At nightfall, the authorities studied the behavior of the wind and the reaction of the fires to determine when the teams will be able to access the area to begin assessing the damage and looking for possible victims.

Earlier in the day, authorities had ordered the evacuation of the cities of Louisville and Superior, located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver and with a combined population of 34,000. A nearby stretch of Highway 36 was also cut.

The two cities are full of middle and upper-middle class urbanizations surrounded by shopping centers, parks and schools. They are located between Denver and Boulder, a university town at the foot of the mountains where the University of Colorado is located.

The eviction was carried out fairly calmly and orderly, but the winding streets of the housing estates quickly became jammed as people tried to leave. Some took up to 45 minutes to go about half a mile (less than a kilometer) by car.

Small fires erupted everywhere in surprising places – like the grass in a median or a dumpster in the middle of a parking lot – when gusts of wind caused flames to jump from place to place and spread. Changes in wind direction turned the skies from cloudless to smoky, and vice versa, as emergency sirens blared nearby.

The first fire started shortly before 10:30 am and was “fought fairly quickly and put out later in the day, and is currently being monitored” with no structures being lost, Pelle explained.

A second forest fire, which was reported shortly after 11:00, “grew rapidly and spread rapidly eastward,” the police chief said. The flames covered 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles).

Some of the fires were caused by downed power lines.

The situation prompted the governor, Jared Polis, to declare a state of emergency, which allows the state to access emergency funds for catastrophes.

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