Hundreds of houses are burning; orderly evacuations
BOULDER, Colo .– A massive, wind-blown wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses near Denver on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands to flee and blanketing the area in smoke.
The high winds that fueled the fires in the area continued Thursday evening as suburbs of Boulder, Superior and Louisville remained under evacuation order. Firefighters were forced to withdraw in many areas as a large forest fire raged and another remained under control.
Hundreds of people watched from the top of a ridge on Thursday night as orange flames swept through the Rock Creek neighborhood in Superior, and numerous more fires dotted the horizon.
Firefighting conditions are expected to improve overnight as winds decrease. The National Weather Service said a strong wind warning has been extended until 8 p.m., but winds are expected to subside overnight. Snow expected on Friday could also help put out the blaze, a National Weather Service meteorologist told USA TODAY.
About 600 homes, a Target shopping complex and a hotel were destroyed by fire in the area, according to Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle.
A fire had burned more than 1,600 acres in a suburban area Thursday night, Pelle said at a press conference. At least one first responder was injured and one hospital reported treating several burns.
No cases of disappearance or death have yet been reported. But Pelle said he wouldn’t be surprised if there were injuries or deaths from the fires.
Governor Jared Polis has declared a state of emergency to allow the state to access emergency funds and services.
âThis area, for those unfamiliar with this area of ââBoulder County, is in and around suburban sub-developments, shops – it’s like the neighborhood you live in,â Polis said during the interview. press conference. â1,600 acres near a population center can be, and in this case are, absolutely devastating. “
On Thursday afternoon, a cloud of dark gray smoke could be seen blowing over the town of Superior, located about 20 miles northwest of Denver. The entire town of about 13,000 residents was ordered to evacuate. About 210 houses were lost in the old town of Superior.
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PICTURES:Forest fires near Denver force thousands to evacuate, burned vehicles and buildings
The city of Louisville, with some 20,000 residents, was also ordered to evacuate. All 370 homes on Louisville’s Sagamore Subdivision also burned down, Pelle said.
Late Thursday evening, Louisville issued a city-wide boil water advisory in coordination with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“Protect yourself by using bottled water or by boiling any water to use for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and preparing food until further notice,” the opinion.
Six people have been hospitalized with burns at UCHealth Broomfield Hospital, spokeswoman Kelli Christensen told USA TODAY. She could not give details of their conditions or the severity of the burns due to HIPAA, a health care privacy law, but said the six are currently being treated.
The Centura-Avista Adventist Hospital, just northwest of Broomfield, evacuated its patients and employees as the flames approached. The hospital was completely evacuated at 4:15 p.m. and sent patients to two sister hospitals. Before evacuation from the hospital, videos posted on social networks showed flames just across the street with houses on fire. Video showed hospital workers in a field outside the hospital with a hose nearby that had been used to wet the grass.
âPatients should not attempt to get to the Avista Adventist Hospital; nearby roads have been closed. Patients should go to the nearest hospital for service or call 9-1-1 if it is an emergency, âsaid Lindsay Radford, hospital spokesperson. .
Broomfield Detention Center, about 20 miles northwest of Denver, was evacuated Thursday evening. All detainees have been evacuated to another facility and are safe, Broomfield Police tweeted.
By 5 p.m., the fire had spread to several neighborhoods in Superior, setting some houses on fire and leaving others untouched. Almost everything that burned was completely out of control, with the firefighters powerless to stop the flames carried by the howling wind.
Pat Kilbride, who has lived in Superior’s Old Town for 30 years, said his house burned down, killing his dog and cat. He said he believed many other houses were destroyed as well.
Kilbride rushed to his house when he heard the fire was approaching the area, but was unable to approach it due to road closures. By the time he arrived on foot, he was already engulfed.
“It’s all gone. The whole old town,” he said. “I’ll go back to my truck and feel sorry for myself.”
Strong winds helped fuel the blaze with gusts as high as 115 mph measured earlier in the day just south of Boulder, said Bruno Rodriguez, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, USA TODAY. Constant winds were measured at around 40 mph with higher gusts throughout the area.
Authorities suspected some of the fires may have been started by broken power lines.
Rodriguez said the winds are unlike anything they’ve seen this season. Coupled with six to seven months of incredibly dry conditions, he said, it was “the worst and most terrible combination that made a rapid fire like this possible.”
The area has seen only about 1.6 inches of rain since August, which was “well below normal,” Rodriguez said.
As firefighters continued to fight the raging blaze, the area was also placed under winter storm warning with several inches of snow forecast overnight and through Friday. The wet snow should help put out the fire, as well as the winds which should slow down in the evening.
âFortunately, we’re going to see the weather conditions change quickly,â Rodriguez said. “We’ve been waiting for this snow for a while, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Hughes reported from Boulder.
Contribution: The Associated Press