Friday, August 12, 2022

Colorado Fire Victims Begin New Year’s Survey of Destruction

An overnight dumping of snow and freezing temperatures added to the misery of hundreds of Colorado residents, who started the new year trying to salvage the remains of their homes after wildfires raging through the Denver suburbs.

At least 6 inches (1.8 meters) of snow and temperatures in the single digits cast a terrifying sight on Saturday, which winds through a suburban area between the still smoldering remains of homes destroyed in Thursday’s wildfires that cross Denver and Situated between boulders. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeates the empty streets blocked by National Guard troops in Humvees.

For the thousands of residents whose homes survived the fire, Red Cross shelter volunteers distributed electric space heaters as utility teams struggled to restore natural gas and electricity.

At least seven people were injured, but notably none in wildfires in and around the neighboring cities of Louisville and Superior, with a combined population of 34,000, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver. There was no report of death. More than 500 houses are feared destroyed.

Fires that burned at least 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers) were no longer considered an immediate threat.

Families, forced to escape the flames with little warning, began to return on Friday to find a patchwork of devastation in their neighborhood. In some blocks, houses were turned into smoking ruins, standing next to people practically unaffected by the fire.

“For 35 years I walked out my front door, I saw beautiful houses,” said Eric House. “Now when I walk out, my house is standing. I walk out my front door and that’s what I see.”

Kathy Glaub found her home in Superior turned into a pile of burnt and rotted rubble. It was one of seven consecutive houses that were destroyed.

“The mailbox is standing,” said Glab, trying to break a smile through tears. She added sadly, “So many memories.”

Despite the devastation, she said they intend to rebuild the house she and her husband have owned since 1998. They love that the land recedes into a natural place, and that they have a view of the mountains from behind.

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Rick Dixon feared there would be nothing to return after the firefighters on the news tried to save his burning home. On Friday, Dixon, his wife and son found that it was mostly worn out, with a hole in the roof but still standing.

“We thought we lost everything,” he said, as he kept his mother-in-law’s china in padded containers. They also found statues of Dixon’s father and piles of clothing still on hangers.

As the flames spread at an alarming speed through the drought-stricken areas, tens of thousands were ordered to flee, with guests moving at 105 mph (169 kph).

The cause of the fire was being investigated. Emergency officials said utility officials could not find any power lines around the site of the fire.

With some roads still closed, people went back to their homes to get clothes or medicine, to turn off the water to keep the pipes from freezing, or to see if they still had a home. They gave up carrying backpacks and dragging suitcases or wagons down the sidewalk.

David Marx stood on a hill with others in Superior View, using a pair of binoculars and the lens of a long-range camera to see if his house and those of his neighbors were still there, but He could not tell for sure whether his place was right or not. At least three friends lost their homes, he said.

He saw from the hill that the neighborhood was burning.

“By the time I woke up here, the houses were completely surrounded,” he said. “I mean, it happened so quickly. I’ve never seen anything like it. … Just door-to-door, fences, just stuff in the wind, just a fire.”

President Joe Biden on Friday declared a major disaster in the region, ordering federal aid to be made available to those affected.

Wildfires erupted unusually late in the year, following an extremely dry fall and a winter between until overnight snowfall.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pele said more than 500 homes were probably destroyed. He and Governor Jared Polis said more than 1,000 homes may have been lost, although it would not be known until crews could assess the damage.

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

The sheriff said some communities had been reduced to just “smoking holes in the ground”. He urged residents to wait for everyone to return due to the danger of fire and power lines falling.

Superior and Louisville are filled with middle- and upper-middle-class subdivisions with shopping centers, parks, and schools. The area is between Denver and Boulder, which is home to the University of Colorado.

Scientists say the weather is getting worse due to climate change and wildfires are becoming more frequent and destructive.

Ninety-nine percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and had not seen enough rainfall since mid-summer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before a minor storm hit on December 10, its last snowfall before wildfires.

Bruce Janda personally suffered the loss of his Louisville home of 25 years on Friday.

“We knew the house was complete, but I felt the need to look at it, see what the rest of the neighborhood looked like,” he said. “We’re a very close-knit community on this street. We all know each other and we all love each other. It’s hard to see this happen to all of us.”

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Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert in Louisville, Colorado; Thalia Beatty in New York; Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report. Nieberg is a core member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that hires journalists to report on issues covered in local newsrooms.

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

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