Forest fires are burning hundreds of homes in Colorado, thousands fleeing

“It’s the kind of fire we can not fight head on,” Pelle said. “We actually had deputy sheriffs and firefighters in areas who had to pull out because they were just overrun.”

Mike Guanella and his family relaxed in their home in the town of Superior and looked forward to celebrating a belated Christmas later in the day as reports of a nearby grass fire quickly yielded to an order to leave immediately.

Instead of opening presents, Guanella and his wife, their three children, and three dogs lived at a friend’s house in Denver, hoping their house would still stand.

“Those gifts are still under the tree right now – we hope,” he said.

As night fell, officials monitored the behavior of the wind and flames to determine when crews could safely step in to assess the damage and look for any victims.

About an inch of snow was forecast for the region on Friday, raising hopes it could help suppress the flames.

The neighboring towns of Louisville and Superior, located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver and home to a total of 34,000 people, were ordered evacuated ahead of the flames, which threw a smoky orange haze across the landscape and lit up at night. sky.

The two cities are filled with middle and upper middle class subdivisions with shopping malls, parks and schools. The area is between Denver and Boulder, home of the University of Colorado.

Residents evacuated fairly calmly and orderly, but the winding streets were quickly clogged. It sometimes took cars as long as 45 minutes to get half a mile ahead.

Small fires appeared here and there in surprising places – on the grass in a median or in a container in the middle of a parking lot – when gusts of wind made the flames burst. Changing winds caused the sky to turn from clear to smoky and looked back again while the sirens sounded.

Leah Angstman and her husband were on their way back to their home in Louisville from Denver International Airport after being away on vacation. They told that they left clear blue sky and instantly stepped into clouds of brown and yellow smoke.

“The wind shook the bus so hard that I thought the bus would overturn,” she said.

The visibility was so poor that the bus had to stop. They waited half an hour until a van escorted the bus to a turning point on the highway.

“The sky was dark, dark brown, and the dirt was blowing in swirls across the sidewalk like snakes,” she said.

Vignesh Kasinath, professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado, evacuated from a neighborhood in the Superior with his wife and her parents.

“It’s only because I’m active on Twitter that I was told about this,” said Kasinath, who said he did not receive an evacuation message from authorities.

The first fire broke out just before 10:30 a.m. and was “attacked fairly quickly and put down later in the day” with no structures lost, the sheriff said. Another fire that was reported just after noon. 11, spread quickly and spread quickly, Pelle said. It covered at least 2.5 square miles (6.5 square kilometers).

Some of the many fires in the area were triggered by broken down power lines, authorities said.

Researchers say climate change is making the weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and devastating.

Colorado’s Front Range, where most of the state’s population lives, had an extremely dry and mild fall, and the winter has been the driest so far. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before it got a little storm on December 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.

Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and it has not seen significant rainfall since mid-summer.

“With no snow on the ground, this would definitely not have happened the way it did,” said snow hydrologist Keith Musselman.

Guanella said he heard from a firefighter friend that his home was still standing Thursday night. But he could only wait and see.

“You’re just waiting to hear if your favorite restaurant is still standing, if the schools your kids go to are still standing,” he said. “You’re just waiting to get some clarity.”

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