Wind-Whipped Wildfires Devour Hundreds of Homes in Colorado

By BLOOMBERG

Hurricane-force winds fueled wildfires near Boulder, Colorado, destroying hundreds of homes, overwhelming firefighters and forcing the evacuation of entire drought-stricken towns.

More than 500 dwellings were engulfed in flames on Thursday, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle reported at a news briefing, warning there could be casualties. Flames also gutted a large hotel.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who lives in Boulder, declared a state of emergency as thousands abandoned the communities of Superior and Louisville, jamming roads and highways. Residents in other parts of Boulder County were warned they too may need to leave.

“We saw a line of flames at least a mile long,” Carmen Porter, who evacuated her home in Boulder County near Louisville, said by telephone. “Houses in the subdivision to the south, across the road from us, burned for sure.” 

After nightfall, the high winds had subsided but skies were orange in flame and the blistering heat was detected by a weather satellite 22,000 miles above the planet, the National Weather Serviceoffice in Boulder said on Twitter.

Wind gusts roaring in from the Rocky Mountains reached as high as 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour, prompting the weather service to issue an alert on Twitter saying “If you are in Louisville, this is a life threatening situation. Leave Now!”

“We are literally watching it burn,” said Superior Mayor Clint Folsom, quoted by the Denver Post. “This is devastating for our people.”

The governor called the fires “unprecedented” saying they “destroyed hundreds of homes, businesses and have displaced thousands,” according to an emailed statement. Blotches of flame scattered far and wide could be seen from a flight departing Denver International Airport.

The primary blaze, the Marshall fire, had burned about 1,600 acres as of 5 p.m., the Denver Gazette reported. Almost 30,000 homes and businesses were without power, according to Poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outages.

Disaster services opened evacuation centers across Boulder County. A special site to shelter horses and other large animals at the Boulder County fairgrounds filled up and a second site for animals was opened in neighboring Jefferson County.

Patients at Centura-Avista Adventist Hospital in Superior were “safely evacuated” to other facilities, hospital operator Centura said in a statement.

Away from the fires, the winds flipped large trucks in the Denver suburb of Arvada on Thursday.