Colorado fires: Hundreds of homes destroyed

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Authorities are urging tens of thousands of people in parts of Boulder County, Colorado, to leave as soon as possible as the grass fires continue to burn.CreditCredit…Trevor Hughes / USA Today Network via Reuters

Rapid Colorado forest fires swept through suburbs near Denver on Thursday, leading to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people in Boulder County and burning at least 500 homes, a shopping complex and a hotel, authorities said.

The forest fires came unusually late in the year for Colorado, where severe drought conditions in recent months has set the stage for such flames to spread easily.

As the sky over Boulder County turned orange on Thursday, ash swirled in the wind and buildings were engulfed in flames. Local authorities announced evacuation orders for Superior and Louisville, and for some residents of Broomfield and Westminster. All of these communities are located between Boulder and Denver, the state capital.

Traffic was heavy in some areas as residents fled nearby flames.

“It’s really smoky and there are some areas where it’s been difficult to breathe outside and you can see flames depending on where you are in the city,” Emily Hogan, a spokeswoman for Louisville, said Thursday. “The situation continues to evolve rapidly and we want everyone to be ready to act if necessary.”

Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency, allowing the state to utilize emergency aid and deploy state resources, including the Colorado National Guard. He said gusts of up to 110 miles per hour had pushed the fires at astonishing speeds across suburban subdivisions.

“This fire is frankly a force of nature,” Mr Polis said at a news conference Thursday. “For those who have lost everything they have had, know that we will be there for you to help rebuild your life.”

The fires started Thursday morning, officials said, and more than 1,600 acres were burned by the evening. The specific cause was unclear early Friday morning.

Although a series of small fires burned through Boulder County, some converged to two larger ones, which state authorities named the Marshall and Middle Fork fires. The Marshall triggered the biggest damage.

Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County described the fires on Thursday as a “horrific event”. He said he believed both head fires were caused by broken power lines and said he would not be surprised if there were deaths or injuries. On Thursday night, only one minor injury was reported: a police officer who got rubbish in his eye.

As several communities warned their residents to prepare to evacuate Thursday night, the National Weather Service warned reported good news: The warnings of strong winds in the Boulder area had all been canceled, though some gusts of wind remained.

Broomfield Police revoked an evacuation order for the city just before midnight local time. The three communities where evacuation orders were still in place early Friday have a total population of more than 150,000, including around 116,000 people living in Westminster.

The fires caused thousands of people to wonder if their homes would survive the night, disrupting important services in several counties.

Avista Adventist Hospital, a 114-bed hospital in Louisville, said Thursday it had evacuated its intensive care units and its emergency department and moved patients to two other hospitals. Staff were sheltered on the spot and nearby roads were closed, the hospital said.

And Xcel Energy, a utility company with millions of customers in Colorado and other states, said Thursday afternoon that strong winds had caused disruptions in the Boulder area. The company said it also intentionally cuts power in some areas because forest fires had affected its natural gas infrastructure.

As midnight approached, the company said it was ending the controlled outages, but that its crews would work overnight and through Friday to restore power to other homes.

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