At least seven people – including first responder – are injured in historic wildfire as sheriff warns of possible deaths and video shows terrified families fleeing Chuck-E-Cheese as blaze rages outside
At least seven people, including a first responder, were injured in the historic Colorado wildfire that destroyed at least 600 homes on Thursday, officials confirmed Friday morning, although Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said during a mid-day press conference ‘miraculously’ there were no deaths or casualties in his county yet.
Pelle, who gave the early damage estimate, said there could be more injuries – and also deaths – because of the intensity of the fires.
‘We still have no reports of casualties or fatalities,’ Pelle stated, adding the one person who was reported missing in Boulder County Thursday night has since been found safe.
‘This is the kind of fire we can’t fight head-on,’ he said. ‘We actually had deputy sheriffs and firefighters in areas that had to pull out because they just got overrun.’
‘We might have our very own new year’s miracle on hand if it turns out there’s no loss of life,’ Governor Jared Polis echoed during the news brief.
The governor, who called the fires ‘devastating,’ said he spoke with President Joe Biden who gave verbal authorization of an expedited emergency disaster declaration. It is expected to be finalized within the next few hours.
Meanwhile, a video circulating social media shows terrified families fleeing a chaotic Chuck E. Cheese in the 13,000-person town of Superior as the blaze raged outside.
Scared children lined up at the restaurant’s glass doors as their parents attempt to calm them.
‘It’s ok, it’s ok,’ several moms echo as one woman, holding a young child in her arms, forces the door open as 115mph winds ravage through the city of Superior.
The Marshall Fire, which broke out just south of Boulder, was caused by extreme winds that 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. More than 30,000 people were forced to evacuate around the towns of Superior and Louisville, which is home to 21,000 people.
Clint Folsom, the mayor of Superior, told Good Morning America on Friday the situation in his town is ‘very grave’.
‘I spent a couple of hours yesterday driving around in the afternoon with the sheriff’s office and town manager just making an assessment of the situation there on the ground and it’s grave,’ Folsom said.
‘It’s nothing like I would have ever imagined would have happened.’
He said he is fearful of what emergency responders are likely to find the coming days.
‘I hope we don’t have fatalities,’ the mayor shared, explaining how although there are no confirmed fatalities as of yet, hundreds of homes burned ‘in a matter of minutes.’
‘I have a feeling that with the speed at which this moved through … the law enforcement agencies from all around our area quickly came into town to assist our sheriff’s office, to get people to evacuated, but at the end of the day it’s up to people to heed that advice and get out.’
At least seven people, including a first responder, were injured in the historic Colorado wildfire that destroyed at least 600 homes on Thursday, officials confirmed Friday morning (Pictured: A home in Louisville, Colo. on fire Thursday)
At least 580 homes had been lost – making the Marshall Fire the most devastating destruction of property in state history (Pictured: A firefighter walking up a road near a home at Middle Fork Road and Foothills Highway north of Boulder)
A video circulating social media shows terrified families fleeing a chaotic Chuck E. Cheese in the 13,000-person town of Superior as the blaze raged outside
Local authorities overnight lifted evacuation orders for Boulder County and the surrounding areas as cooler temperatures slowed the fire. According to the National Weather Service, the area is expecting a ‘very chilly’ New Years Eve with temperatures in the single digits and wind chills below zero in some communities.
Snowfall is expected across the majority of the Greater Boulder area, a weather activity much more common this time of year than wildfires.
In addition to the Marshall Fire, a second blaze, the Middle Fork Fire, broke out on Thursday around 10.30am north of Boulder. It 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 fires.
The Chuck E. Cheese evacuation is just one of many that occurred in the Greater Boulder area Thursday.
Jason Fletcher, who shared video of the Chuck E. Cheese evacuation on social media, said the scene within the restaurants changed in a ‘matter of minutes’
Jason Fletcher, who shared video of the Chuck E. Cheese evacuation on social media, told Insider the scene within the restaurants changed in a ‘matter of minutes’.
Fletcher and his family, who were visiting from California, said the skies were clear and blue with some high winds that morning. Around noon, customers inside the restaurant and arcade began noticing smoke.
‘My wife noticed the flames, and that’s when she called out to everybody,’ he said, noting they all initially thought the wind was blowing smoke in from other areas.
Fletcher said that thought process quickly changed as smoke engulfed. Families then began rushing between arcade games to find their children.
‘Everybody was just gathering their kids and making sure they were safe,’ he added.
Video shows how it took multiple people to force open the Chuck E. Cheese doors.
He added by the time the customers exited the establishment fire crews had arrived at the shopping center and were guiding people out in an effort to help them avoid flames. He said that his family safely evacuated.
Fletcher also claimed they were ‘fortunate’ to have face masks, a standard practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic, because the smoke outside the restaurant was ‘so heavy’.
By first light Friday, the towering flames that had lit up the night sky (as seen Thursday in the town of Superior) were gone, leaving smoldering homes and charred trees and fields
By first light Friday, the towering flames that had lit up the night sky were gone, leaving smoldering homes and charred trees and fields. The winds had died down, and light snow was in the forecast, raising hopes it could prevent flare-ups.
The neighboring towns of Louisville and Superior, situated about 20 miles northwest of Denver and home to a combined 34,000 people, were ordered evacuated ahead of the fires, which cast a smoky, orange haze over the landscape.
Many residents evacuated fairly calmly and in orderly fashion, but the winding streets quickly became clogged. It sometimes took cars as long as 45 minutes to advance a half-mile.
However, despite the evacuation orders from authorities, some residents refused to leave their homes, officials report.
‘There were people who would not evacuate,’ Pelle told KDVR.
‘We have a number of reports of deputies who actually contacted people who refused to evacuate, and we know those homes are gone. So we are praying that they got out in time.’
Small fires cropped up here and there in surprising places – on the grass in a median or in a dumpster in the middle of a parking lot – as gusts caused the flames to jump. Shifting winds caused the skies to turn from clear to smoky and then back again as sirens wailed.
Video shared on Twitter showed cars flipping around and driving the wrong way on US Highway 36, a major east and westbound interstate in Colorado, as drivers tried to escape the fast-moving fire.
A photo taken by Broomfield Police Department shows smoke and flames seen from St. Andrews Lane in Superior
The first fire erupted just before 10.30am Thursday and was ‘attacked pretty quickly and laid down later in the day’ with no structures lost, officials said. A second blaze, reported just after 11am ballooned and spread rapidly
Leah Angstman and her husband were returning to their Louisville home from Denver International Airport after being away for the holidays. They recounted leaving clear blue skies and instantly entering clouds of brown and yellow smoke.
‘The wind rocked the bus so hard that I thought the bus would tip,’ she said.
The visibility was so poor the bus had to pull over. They waited a half-hour until a transit authority van escorted the bus to a turnaround on the highway.
‘The sky was dark, dark brown, and the dirt was blowing in swirls across the sidewalk like snakes,’ she said.
The first fire erupted just before 10.30am and was ‘attacked pretty quickly and laid down later in the day’ with no structures lost, the sheriff said. A second blaze, reported just after 11am ballooned and spread rapidly, Pelle said. It covered at least 2.5 square miles.
Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Colorado’s Front Range, where most of the state’s population lives, had an extremely dry and mild fall, and winter has been mostly dry so far. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before it got a small storm on Dec. 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.
‘With any snow on the ground, this absolutely would not have happened in the way that 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 that your kids go to are still standing,’ he said. ‘You’re just waiting to get some clarity.’