Officials say the three missing people all lived in homes consumed by the windswept urban wildfire.
Three people are missing and are feared dead after a wildfire raged through two towns in the U.S. state of Colorado, causing thousands of evacuations and destroying nearly 1,000 homes.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Saturday the three missing people, whom he did not want to identify, all lived in homes consumed by the fire.
“The structures where these people would be are completely destroyed,” Pelle told a news conference.
Officials initially said there were no reports of deaths or missing residents after the rare urban wildfire that erupted Thursday morning on the northern outskirts of the Denver metropolitan area.
Wind gusts of more than 100 miles per hour (160 km / h) pushed flames eastward into the towns of Superior and Louisville, prompting the evacuation of both communities.
In about two hours, the fire scorched 6,000 acres, officials said.
Pelle said corpse teams will be deployed Sunday to search for the missing. But the task is hampered by debris from destroyed structures covered by 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow that was dumped by a storm overnight, he said.
At least seven people were also injured in the fire.
Pelle also said 991 homes in Superior, Louisville and in unincorporated parts of the county were destroyed, making it the most devastating wildfire in the state’s history in terms of lost homes.
Officials initially said sparks from falling power lines that were blown over by the gale-force winds may have caused the fire, but an inspection by utility Xcel Energy found no damaged or knocked down lines near the fire’s presumed origin.
Pelle said detectives are investigating all avenues to determine what ignited the fire.
At a tip, the sheriff said a search warrant had been issued in connection with the investigation, but declined to provide any details.
U.S. President Joe Biden has declared the scene a national disaster, releasing federal funds to help affected people and businesses with recovery efforts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
Saturday in Boulder County, the snow and single-digit temperatures threw an ominous scene amid ever-smoldering remnants of homes. The smell of smoke continued to permeate the empty streets as utility crews struggled to restore electricity and gas service to homes that survived.
Dozens of people lined up to get donated space heaters, bottled water and blankets at Red Cross shelters.
“It’s bittersweet, because we have our house, but our friends do not. And not our neighbors, ”said Judy Givens, a resident of Louisville, when she picked up a heater with her husband. “We thought 2022 could be better. And then we had omicron. And now we have it, and it’s not starting very well. ”
Others meanwhile stepped through the snow to determine the condition of their homes and take possessions.
Viliam Klein bowed in sadness when he first saw the ruins of his 100-year-old home in Superior on Saturday. Smoke rises through the snow-covered ash; a few neighbors walked past, with what they could from their own ruined homes.
“At this point, I’m just honestly overwhelmed and I can no longer feel much,” Klein said.
The veld fire broke out extremely late in the year, after an extremely dry autumn and in the middle of a winter almost without snow until the overnight snowfall. High winds pushed flames that ate at bone-dried grasses and vegetation on farmland and open spaces interspersed with suburban subdivisions.
Scientists say climate change is once again making it more extreme and wildfires more frequent and devastating.
Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and it has not seen significant rainfall since mid-summer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before hitting a small storm on December 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires.
“It did not snow the whole winter of 2021. No wonder it all went up in flames, “said Klein.