SUPERIOR, Colo. (AP) – Investigators are still trying to determine what started a massive fire in a suburb near Denver that burned down neighborhoods and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes and other buildings.
Three people are missing following the hell that broke out on Thursday.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said on Saturday authorities were pursuing a number of tips and executed a search warrant at “a particular location.” He declined to give details.
A sheriff’s official who declined to provide his name confirmed that a property was under investigation in the Marshall Mesa area of Boulder County, an area of open grasslands about two miles to the west of Superior. A National Guard Humvee blocked access to the property, which was just one of many under investigation, the official said.
Utilities officials could not find any downed power lines around where the fire started in the area between Denver and Boulder. The wildfire occurred exceptionally late in the year, after an extremely dry fall and in the middle of a nearly snow-free winter, experts say conditions certainly contributed to the spread of the blaze.
At least 991 homes and other buildings were destroyed, Pelle said: 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior and 106 in the unincorporated parts of the county. Hundreds more were damaged. Pelle warned that the wind-whipped forest fire tally is not final.
The totals include barns, outhouses and other destroyed structures, but the vast majority were homes, Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said on Saturday evening.
Authorities had said earlier that no one was missing. But Churchill said it was due to the confusion inherent when agencies scramble to handle an emergency.
Pelle said authorities were organizing corpses teams to search for the missing in the Superior area and unincorporated Boulder County. The task is complicated by the debris of the destroyed structures, covered with 20 centimeters of snow dumped by a storm overnight, he said.
At least seven people were injured in the wildfire that broke out in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring towns about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.
The blaze, which burned at least 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers), was no longer seen as an immediate threat – especially with the overnight snow spill and freezing temperatures on Saturday.
Snow and single-digit temperatures create an eerie scene amid the still smoking remains of houses. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeated the empty streets blocked by National Guard troops at Humvees.
Conditions compounded the misery of residents who started the New Year trying to save what was left of their homes.
Utility crews struggled to restore electricity and gas service to the homes that survived, and dozens of people lined up to get heaters, water bottles and blankets in the homes. Red Cross shelters. Xcel Energy urged other residents to use fireplaces and wood stoves to stay warm and keep their pipes from freezing.
Families filled a long line of cars waiting to collect radiators and bottled water from a Salvation Army distribution center at the YMCA in Lafayette, just north of Superior.
Monarch High School high school students Noah Sarasin and his twin brother Gavin had been volunteering there for the past two days, directing traffic and handing out donations.
“We have a house, no heating but we still have a house,” Noah Sarasin said. “I just want to make sure everyone has warmth on this very cold day.”
Hilary and Patrick Wallace bought two heaters, then ordered two hot chocolate mokas from a nearby cafe. The Superior couple could not find a hotel and were planning to travel two miles home; their neighborhood was still blocked from traffic. The family slept in a room on New Years Eve.
The two cried when a man walked into the store and joked out loud that he lost his coffee cups – and everything else – in the fire. The man was in a good mood, laughing at the irony of the situation.
“I have a heater and a house to put it in. I don’t even know what to tell them,” Hilary said, wiping away a tear.
Superior resident Jeff Markley arrived in his truck to pick up a heater. He said he felt lucky to be “just moved” since his house is intact.
“We are coping, staying with friends and optimistic for the new year. It must be better than the latter, ”said Markley.
Not everyone felt so positive.
“It’s bittersweet because we have our home, but not our friends. And our neighbors don’t, ”said Judy Givens, a Louisville resident, as she took a heater with her husband. “We thought 2022 could be better. And then we had omicron. And now we have this, and it’s not starting very well. “
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