Colorado burn victims begin surveying the destruction in the new year


SUPERIOR, Colorado (AP) – Hundreds of Colorado residents who expected to ring their homes in 2022 are instead starting the New Year to save what’s left of them after a windswept wildfire raged through the Denver suburbs .

Families fleeing the flames without warning returned to their neighborhoods on Friday to find a patchwork of devastation. In a few blocks there were houses that had fallen into smoking ruins, next to those that had remained practically unscathed by the fires.

“For 35 years I walked out my front door and saw beautiful houses,” said Eric House. “If I go out now, my home will be there. I walk out my front door and that’s what I see. “

At least seven people were injured, but notably, there were no reports of deaths or missing in the forest fire that broke out on Thursday in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring cities about 20 miles northwest of Denver with a total population of 34,000.

More than 500 homes feared they would be destroyed and now homeowners face the daunting task of rebuilding amid a global supply shortage caused by the two-year pandemic.

“As the economy is now, how long will it take to rebuild all these houses?” Asked Brian O’Neill, who owns a house in Louisville that burned to the ground.

Cathy Glaab found that her house in Superior had become a pile of charred and twisted rubble. It was one of seven houses in a row that were destroyed.

“The mailbox is up,” said Glaab and tried to crack a smile through tears. She added sadly, “So many memories.”

Despite the devastation, they want to rebuild the house that she and her husband have had since 1998. They love that the land joins a natural space and that they have a view of the mountains from the rear.

Rick Dixon feared there would be nothing to return to after seeing firefighters trying to save his burning house on the news. On Friday, Dixon, his wife, and son found it mostly gutted with a gaping hole in the roof, but still standing.

“We thought we’d lost everything,” he said, holding his mother-in-law’s china in padded containers. They also took out sculptures belonging to Dixon’s father and piles of clothes that were still on hangers.

As the flames swept over drought-stricken neighborhoods at an alarming rate and were driven by guests at up to 169 km / h, tens of thousands were ordered to flee.

The cause of the fire was investigated. Rescue workers said utility officials did not find any rundown power lines near the fire.

With some streets still closed on Friday, people walked back to their homes to get clothes or medicine, turn off the water to prevent the pipes from freezing, or to see if they still had a house. They walked with rucksacks and dragged suitcases or carts down the sidewalk.

David Marks stood with others on a hill overlooking Superior and used binoculars and binoculars to see if his house and that of his neighbors were still there, but couldn’t quite tell if his seat was okay. He said at least three friends have lost their homes.

He had watched the neighborhood burn from the hillside.

“When I got up here, the houses were completely devoured,” he said. “I mean, it was so quick. I’ve never seen anything like it. … Just house by house, fences, just stuff that flies through the air, just caught fire. “

By sunrise on Friday, the towering flames that had lit the night sky had subsided and the wind had subsided. Soon light snow began to fall, and the flame, which burned at least 24 square kilometers, was no longer viewed as an imminent threat.

“We could have our very own New Year’s miracle in hand if it stays that way that there have been no fatalities,” said Governor Jared Polis, noting that many people only had a few minutes to evacuate.

The wildfire broke out unusually late in the year, after an extremely dry autumn and a winter that was almost snow-free so far.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said more than 500 homes were likely to have been destroyed. He and the governor said up to 1,000 homes could have been lost, but that won’t be known until crews can assess the damage.

“When you look at the devastation, it’s incredible that we don’t have a list of 100 missing people,” said the sheriff.

The sheriff said some communities had been reduced to “smoking holes in the ground.” He asked residents to wait for the all-clear due to the risk of fire and the collapsed power lines.

Superior and Louisville are filled with middle and upper class neighborhoods with shopping malls, parks, and schools. The area is between Denver and Boulder, home of the University of Colorado.

Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and forest fires more common and more destructive.

Ninety percent of Boulder County has been hit by severe or extreme drought, and there has been no significant rainfall since midsummer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before a small storm hit on December 10, the last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.

Bruce Janda personally faced the loss of his 25-year-old Louisville home on Friday.

“We knew the house had been totaled, but I felt the need to see it, to see what the rest of the neighborhood looked like,” he said. “We’re a very close-knit church on this street. We all know each other and we all love each other. It’s hard to imagine that something like this could happen to all of us. “

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Associated Press Writer Thomas Peipert of Louisville, Colorado and Thalia Beaty of New York contributed to this report. Nieberg is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national program that places journalists on local newsrooms to cover undercover issues. Associated Press Writer Brady McCombs contributed to this Salt Lake City story.

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The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for reporting on water and the environment. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental reports, visit https://apnews.com/hub/environment.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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