‘Life threatening’ wildfires raze at least 600 homes, a shopping mall and a hotel to the ground in Boulder, Colorado: State of emergency declared after ‘historic’ December blaze sparked 30,000 to evacuate
Firefighters on Thursday night were trying their best to preserve homes in the line of a fast-moving wildfire, which has shocked the state at a time when the ground should usually be thick with December snow.
The Marshall Fire, just south of Boulder, was sparked by extreme winds gusting over 100mph, which knocked down power lines and sparked a fire.
Officials on Thursday night confirmed that at least 580 homes had been lost – making the Marshall Fire the most devastating destruction of property in state history.
A second fire on Thursday, the Middle Fork Fire, begun at 10:30am north of Boulder, but was brought under control by mid afternoon, and did not burn any structures.
The unseasonal fires came after smaller fires were reported in the state, at the end of a bone-dry summer and fall.
Colorado saw unusually high levels of rain in the spring, but that has been followed by a punishing drought: since April 1, Boulder has received less than a quarter of its typical rain and snow over that five-month time period.
The spring rains caused a surge in undergrowth, which then dried over the parched summer and served as perfect tinder for Thursday’s fire.
More than 30,000 people were forced to evacuate on Thursday around the towns of Superior, population 13,000, and Louisville, home to 21,000 people.
As night fell on Thursday, the Marshall Fire was still blazing around Boulder, having forced the evacuation of some 30,000 people and destroyed 600 homes
A home burns after a fast moving wildfire swept through the area in the Centennial Heights neighborhood of Louisville, Colorado
Fires burning in Superior are seen from a plane flying from Denver, Colorado
A Louisville fire officer is seen on Thursday night trying to put out a blaze in the Centennial Heights area
A spooked horse gallops through a smoke-filled Grasso Park on Thursday afternoon as wildfires rip through the area
Flames tear through a house in the Rock Creek Village neighborhood near Broomfield, Colorado
Houses are engulfed in flames as the wildfires ripped through a neighborhood in Superior, Colorado
A satellite image shows an overview of fires in Superior, Colorado
Homes burn as wildfires rip through a development in Superior on Thursday night
The wildfire is seen burning near houses in Superior on Thursday evening
Police officers secure the smoke-filled road on 96th St. and West Dillon Rd. in Louisville, Colorado on Thursday
As night fell, people living in some parts of Westminster were also ordered to leave, in addition to areas around Rocky Mountain airport.
Evacuation warnings for Arvada were lifted, however.
Aerial footage shot by passengers flying out of Denver airport – where flights were halted earlier in the day due to the high winds – showed the scale of the fires, roaring in the night sky.
‘The conditions around the Marshall Fire are currently very volatile and unsafe,’ said Joe Pelle, sheriff of Boulder County, who said it had been ‘a harrowing day’.
He said they hoped the winds would drop overnight, but forecasters were warning there would be continued strong gusts.
Snow is forecast for Friday.
Pelle said the damage had been significant, and at 7pm one of the two fires was out but the larger Marshall Fire had burnt more than 1,600 acres.
‘We know that approximately 370 homes in the Sagamore subdivision, just west of Superior, have been lost,’ he said.
‘There is a potential of 210 homes lost in Old Town Superior.
‘The Target shopping complex is on fire. The Element hotel is on fire.
‘We had one officer lightly injured, but thankfully no fatalities.’
Later on Thursday, reports suggested that the Home Depot store was also on fire.
The hillsides and houses in Broomfield were ablaze on Thursday evening
Wind-driven wildfires rip through homes as smoke obscures the highway in Superior, Boulder County
A police officer tries to secure the scene in Louisville on Thursday
Homes burn as wildfires rip through a development near Rock Creek Village
Homes burning in Rock Creek Village. 600 homes, a hotel and a shopping center have burned and tens of thousands of people were evacuated in wind-fueled wildfires outside Denver
Homes burn as a wildfire rips through a development near Rock Creek Village, near Broomfield
Residents fight the Marshall Fire in Louisville, Colorado
Fire crews worked through the night battling the blaze that had destroyed more than 600 homes in Boulder County
Pelle added: ‘We currently have no reports of missing people, and no casualty reports. But given the ferocity of this fire, it wouldn’t surprise us if we did.’
Six people were taken to hospital with burns said Kelli Christensen, a spokeswoman for UC Health in Broomfield, speaking to The Colorado Sun.
Pelle did not mention homes destroyed in Louisville in his tally of 580, but dramatic photos on Thursday night showed properties gutted by flames.
The historic center of Louisville – an old mining town, with what is claimed to be the longest-running tavern in the state – was unscathed as of 10pm local time, according to a Denver Post photographer.
Those in Louisville who were not in the evacuation area were being told to boil their water, as purification plants failed.
XCel Energy said that 22,500 people in the area were without power on Thursday night.
Wind-driven fires raging last night in Broomfield, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes
Broomfield police tweeted shocking footage of houses ablaze in Louisville
The convoy of Broomfield police drove through smoky scenes of a horrifying nature
The town of Superior was particularly hard hit, losing 580 homes plus a hotel and a Target store
Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, declared a state of emergency.
‘We are potentially talking about over 500 homes lost,’ he said.
‘This is the kind of fire you can’t fight.
‘For those who have lost everything they had, know that we will be there for you.’
Among those whose homes had been destroyed was a coach at Colorado University’s football team, Mark Smith.
‘Just got word that every material possession we had today is now gone,’ tweeted Smith, inside linebackers coach.
‘Our home, cars, and everything we had in our home lost to the fires that ripped through our community. Thank you to those who reached out. Processing how to completely start over and grateful for our health.’
Mark Smith, a Colorado University coach, has lost his house in the fire, he confirmed on Thursday
Evacuees stand as they check in at the 1stBank Center, acting as an evacuation center in Broomfield
People line up as they get up food at 1stBank Center, acting as an evacuation center, after wind-driven wildfires prompted evacuation orders, in Broomfield
Dhieux Windsor was brought to the YMCA of Northern Colorado by an ambulance after wind-driven wildfires prompted evacuation orders
Three evacuation centers had been set up, with cots brought in to sleep on and meals provided.
A fourth shelter, for COVID positive people, was also in place on Thursday night.
Residents were being asked not to try and return to their homes as night fell.
‘If you are a resident who has evacuated or has property in an evacuation zone, please do NOT return to the area,’ said Boulder Office of Emergency Management.
‘We know that you are concerned about your home and your belongings.
‘First responders are working non-stop to keep everyone safe, even as they don’t know the status of their own homes in the area.
‘No one will be allowed in the evacuated areas overnight.
‘Please be patient as we do our best to protect everyone’s safety.
‘The recovery process will be a long one, but we will get through this together one step at a time.’
The sheriff of Boulder County said they estimated 580 homes in Superior had been lost to fire. On Thursday night dramatic images from Louisville (above) showed that the tally would rise significantly
A blazing apartment complex is seen in Superior, in footage shot by a CBS Denver editor. The light from the fire can be seen between the two tall trees
Flames threaten a small shopping center in Broomfield on Thursday night
Broomfield is seen surrounded by flames. The city was placed under an evacuation warning, but has not yet evacuated
Harrowing photos and video of houses ablaze and fields on fire were widely shared.
One dramatic image showed a horse galloping through the clouds of smoke blotting out the sun.
People issued appeals on social media for help relocating their pets, who fled in terror.
Shoppers at a Costco in the town of Superior were evacuated, with Tison Hoff, a shipping receiving manager for the company, tweeting dramatic footage of the smoke blotting out the sun.
Other social media users shared footage of the smoke and burning grasses around the store, as shoppers were hurried out with their carts full of goods.
Small fires were seen burning around the parking lot as Hoff drove away from the scene.
Back at his home, he tweeted the footage and then added: ‘Scariest day of my life.’
Joe Pelle, the sheriff of Boulder County, is seen on Thursday evening announcing the grim total of 580 houses destroyed – the worst tally for a wildfire in Colorado’s history. Governor Jared Polis is standing next to him, to the left
Smoke from the wildfires north of Denver is seen from the sky, as fast winds whip the blazes
Wildfires are pictured sweeping across the plains north of Denver, around Boulder
Two wildfires were sparked near Boulder, Colorado this morning after strong winds caused downed power lines and exploding transformers in the area
Residents of Superior and Louisville have begun to be evacuated. Citizens of Boulder County have been warned to flee to if they see flames
A motorist captured the flames flickering along the side of the road near Boulder on Thursday
Dramatic aerial footage from a flight above the Denver area on Thursday night showed the scale of the fires
Thousands are without power and roads have been closed as the winds and fire persist
The Marshall Fire now holds the grim record for destroying more homes than any other in Colorado’s recent history.
The state’s largest ever wildfire, the Cameron Peak Fire, burned through 208,913 acres in August 2020, and destroyed 184 homes, 30 of which were primary residences.
The most destructive, before today, was the the Black Forest Fire of June 2013, which burned through a heavily-populated area surrounded by dense forest, destroying 498 homes.
The wildfires are yet another troubling climatic phenomena to strike the U.S. this December.
The east of the U.S. has had abnormally warm weather, while the Northern Rockies went into a deep freeze.
Alaska has had unprecedented heat for any winter month, while California has endured huge snowstorms.
There have also been unseasonal tornadoes ripping across Missouri and Kentucky.
Thursday’s wildfire was helped by drought-ridden grasslands, and is Colorado’s second unusual fire outbreak in as many months.
In mid-November, wildfires sprung up in the mountains near the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, a place normally accustomed to snow rather than flames at this time of year.