The Marshall fire engulfing Colorado, USA may have destroyed as many as 1,000 homes east of Boulder, authorities said Friday as improving weather and an incoming snowstorm eliminated the risk of Colorado’s most destructive fire getting even worse.
“It’s unbelievable, when you look at the devastation, that we don’t have a list of 100 missing persons,” remarked Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle Pelle speaking at a news conference on Friday. Three people have reportedly been missing after the incident.
Pelle said he’s confident more than 500 homes were consumed by the 6,000-acre fire, which is believed to have been caused by down power lines and was fanned by wind gusts of up to 110 miles per hour on Thursday. Superior and south Louisville were the hardest-hit areas. Businesses were also destroyed, including a hotel.
Xcel Energy officials say they have not been able to confirm that any power lines were down or caused the fire, the Boulder Office of Emergency Management said in a news release.
“The last 24 hours have been devastating,” Polis added. The governor said he spoke to President Joe Biden, who approved an expedited disaster declaration.
“It feels like we’ve experienced enough loss and tragedy in these two years and then yesterday happened over the course of several hours,” Polis pointed out. “This is our community and to watch it burn so quickly, so unexpectedly, is something that I think we’re all struggling to believe and understand. It is so different than fires that over periods of weeks and months develop. This played out with 105-mile-per-hour winds over a course of half a day.” Calmer winds, cooler temperatures and a light snow that began falling in some areas were helping firefighters on Friday. Pelle said fire officials do not expect the fire to grow on Friday, thanks to the better weather. Pockets within the existing burn area continue to smolder.
Several inches of snow – the first significant snowfall in what has been a historically dry season – were forecast for the area through Saturday.
“Unfortunately, so much damage has already been done. But the one thing we do have going in our favor is that generally, the winds will be lighter,” said David Barjenbruch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder.
Some of the thousands of people who evacuated from Superior and Louisville returned early Friday and lined roads overlooking the burn area in hopes of learning whether their homes survived the flames.
The thick smoke plume that blanketed the region on Thursday had mostly lifted early Friday, but pockets of smoke continued to rise from the burn area.
Among those who suffered loss was Michelle Clifford of Louisville. On Friday morning, she and her partner and her 19-year-old son stood amid the smoking ash of what was their home in the Enclave, a neighbourhood of several dozen homes clustered along a circular street in Louisville. Flames were still whipping in the basement. Elsewhere Friday, residents hugged and consoled each other as they looked over the scenes of devastation. One resident said she was too emotional to talk, as a firefighting plane flew overhead. The Colorado fire is untimely and unprecedented and it was the latest example of climate change related disaster the world is facing currently.