Tens of thousands of people evacuated after high winds fueled two fires in suburban areas near Boulder.
More than 500 homes were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate after high winds whipped two wildfires in suburban areas near Boulder, Colorado, on Thursday.
Both fires were likely started by downed power lines, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said, but officials are continuing to investigate. As of Thursday evening, only one injury had been reported — debris blew into a police officer’s eye — but Pelle stressed the human toll could be higher.
“Due to the magnitude of this fire, we would not be surprised if there are injuries or fatalities,” Pelle said during a press conference.
The Middle Fork and Marshall fires started Thursday morning and exploded as wind gusts of more than 100 mph hit the region. As of Thursday evening, the Marshall fire had burned through 1,600 acres, prompting evacuations in Superior and Louisville, as well as parts of Broomfield. Videos on social media showed people leaving stores that shut down as smoke loomed.
All 370 homes in the Sagamore subdivision outside the town of Superior were destroyed as well as 210 homes in the Old Town neighborhood. A shopping center and hotel also burned, and authorities said the full scope of damage in other neighborhoods remained unknown.
The National Weather Service Boulder has extended a high-wind warning until 8 p.m. local time Thursday for locations at the base of the foothills, but winds are weakening in the area of the Marshall Fire.
“The end won’t come until the wind subsides,” Pelle said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said during the press conference that the state has been approved for federal assistance, but he recognized that many things lost could not be replaced.
“There’s no way to quantify in any financial way the price of a loss, the price of losing the chair that was handed down to you from your grandmother, of losing your childhood yearbooks, of losing your photos, of losing your computer files, which hundred of Colorado families have experienced today with no warning,” Polis said.
Footage from a Denver7 News reporter showed homes continued to burn Thursday night.
Weather disasters are inextricably linked to human-induced climate change. The planet has already warmed 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, according to NASA, and that’s making disasters worse. Wildfire seasons are getting longer. Hurricanes are getting wetter and more dangerous. Heat waves are getting hotter, more frequent, and longer-lasting. Heavier rainfall across the US is triggering more inland flooding. And the cost of climate disasters is soaring. Stopping this vicious cycle will require drastically reducing our reliance on climate-polluting fossil fuels.
Polis also acknowledged how unusual the timing was for a wildfire.
“Here in December, who thought we would be fighting a major grassland fire?” he said.