Rapid Colorado wildfires swept through suburbs near Denver on Thursday, evacuating tens of thousands of people in Boulder County and torching at least 500 homes, a shopping complex and a hotel, authorities said .
Wildfires occurred exceptionally late in the year for Colorado, where severe drought conditions the past few months have paved the way for such fires to spread easily.
As the sky over Boulder County turned orange on Thursday, ash swirled in the wind and the buildings were engulfed in flames. Local authorities have announced evacuation orders for Superior and Louisville, and for some residents of Broom field and Westminster.
Traffic was heavy in some areas as residents fled the approaching flames.
“It’s really smoky, and there are some places it was hard to breathe outside, and you can see flames depending on where you are in the city,” spokeswoman Emily Hogan said Thursday. of Louisville. âThe situation continues to change rapidly and we want everyone to be ready to act, if necessary. “
Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency, allowing the state to tap emergency funds and deploy state resources, including the Colorado National Guard. He said wind gusts of up to 110 miles per hour pushed the fires at an astonishing speed in the suburban housing estates.
“This fire is, frankly, a force of nature,” Polis said at a press conference on Thursday. âFor those who have lost everything, know that we will be there to help you rebuild your life.
The fires started Thursday morning, officials said, and more than 1,600 acres had burned by the evening. The precise cause was unclear on Friday morning.
While a number of small fires have burned in Boulder County, some have converged into two larger ones that state officials have named the Marshall and Middle Fork Fires. The Marshall unleashed the most damage.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle called Thursday’s fires a “horrific event.” He said he believed the two main fires were caused by downed power lines and that he would not be surprised if there were deaths or injuries. As of Thursday evening, only one minor injury was reported: a police officer who received debris in the eye.
The four communities subject to evacuation orders Thursday night were between Boulder and Denver, the capital. These communities have a total population of over 200,000, including approximately 116,000 people who live in Westminster.
While several neighboring communities also warned their residents to prepare to evacuate Thursday evening, the National Weather Service announced good news: Strong wind warnings in the Boulder area had all been canceled, although gusts of wind remained.
The fires have left thousands of people anxiously wondering if their homes will survive the night and have disrupted essential services in several counties.
Avista Adventist Hospital, a 114-bed hospital in Louisville, said Thursday it had evacuated its intensive care units and emergency department, moving patients to two other hospitals. Staff took refuge there 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 high winds had caused outages in the Boulder area. The company said it was also intentionally cutting power in some areas as wildfires affected its natural gas infrastructure.
As midnight approached, the company said it was ending controlled outages, but that its crews would work overnight and until Friday to restore power to other homes.