Colorado’s governor has issued a state of emergency as two wildfires sweep the grasslands around Boulder, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people and destroying 600 homes – the most devastating loss of homes in Colorado’s wildfire history.
Six people were taken to hospital with burns said Kelli Christensen, a spokeswoman for UC Health in Broomfield, speaking to The Colorado Sun, but Colorado officials on Thursday night said there were no reports of fatalities..
Thousands of frightened residents have been ordered to evacuate after strong winds downed power lines and caused a transformer to explode, sparking two fast-moving grass fires, according to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.
XCel Energy Colorado said 26,000 customers were without power.
The Middle Fork Fire begun at 10:30am north of Boulder near the intersection of North Foothills Highway and Middle Fork Road. It has now been brought under control, and did not burn any structures.
The Marshall Fire is south of Boulder close to the intersection of South Cherryvale Road and Marshall Drive.
The Marshall Fire is burning 1,600 acres, said Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County at a 7pm press conference.
‘The conditions around the Marshall Fire are currently very volatile and unsafe,’ said Pelle, who said it had been ‘a harrowing day’ for his county.
He said they hoped the winds would drop overnight, but forecasters were warning there would be continued strong gusts.
‘We know that approximately 370 homes in the Sagamore subdivision, just west of Superior, have been lost.
‘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.’
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.’
Pelle did not mention homes destroyed in Louisville in his tally of 580, but dramatic photos on Thursday night showed properties gutted by flames.
Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, said: ‘We are potentially talking about over 500 homes lost.
‘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.’
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.
A home in Louisville is seen going up in flames on Thursday evening
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 Louisville fire officer is seen on Thursday night trying to put out a blaze in the Centennial Heights area
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
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
All residents of Superior, a total of about 4,000 households, have been instructed to evacuate, authorities announced. Evacuees were directed to the South Boulder Recreation Center – where the power has now been knocked out – the Lafayette YMCA, or the Longmont Senior Center.
Footage filmed by a CBS Denver editor in Superior showed an apartment complex on fire.
‘It appears this apartment complex is fully engulfed,’ he tweeted.
‘I’m at the intersection of McCaslin and Rock Creek Pkwy shooting towards the north / northeast. Winds are dying down slightly.’
Residents of Louisville, population 21,000, have also been directed to quickly evacuate. The South Boulder Recreation Center is serving as an evacuation site.
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
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.
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.’
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.
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
Thousands are without power and roads have been closed as the winds and fire persist
Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said any residents who can see fire should leave immediately. All local residents were instructed to close their windows to protect against the smoke.
‘In the case of evacuation, head east or north. Do not evacuate to the south,’ the Louisville Police Department warned.
Huge plumes of smoke filled the air as the dangerous winds continued to blow the fires along.
The National Weather Service reported an ‘extraordinary’ gust of wind reaching 105 mph just south of the Boulder city limit Thursday morning.
The city of Broomfield was issued with an evacuation warning, and their shopping mall was closed as a precaution.
Polis tweeted: ‘Prayers for thousands of families evacuating from the fires in Superior and Boulder County. Fast winds are spreading flames quickly and all aircraft are grounded.’
Denver International Airport was put on a ground delay, meaning flights will be pushed back at least 40 minutes.
By Thursday evening they were flying once more, but with some airlines reporting delays.
The city of Boulder activated its Emergency Operations Center to help residents respond to the active situation.
The Colorado State Patrol closed Highway 93 between Highway 58 and Highway 128; Highway 36; and US 36, among other roads, noting that ‘several high profile vehicles have been blown over due to the wind.’
University of Colorado Boulder Facilities Management confirmed that many trees and branches on the campus have been toppled over by the winds.
The Boulder Office of Emergency Management made clear that the fires are their top priorities and have requested that people only call their hotline in regards to the fire.
‘We DO NOT need donations at this time–please don’t call the EOC. We need to keep the lines clear. Thank you,’ the office tweeted.
The forecast calls for the wind speeds to remain high Thursday afternoon as a cold front pushes through, but to decrease to 20 to 30 mph on Thursday night.
There is a possibility of snow on Friday.
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.