Two persons are still reported missing in the snow-covered, smoldering wasteland left behind after a massive winter wildfire in Colorado destroyed nearly 1,000 homes, officials announced on Sunday.
One person who was previously reported missing was found alive.
“Yesterday we were at three, but we have accounted for one of those gentlemen, so we are now at two missing persons and we are in the process today of trying to locate and possibly recover those folks,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said at a press conference. Snow and debris have hindered the search and rescue efforts.
The unseasonable wildfire erupted on Thursday in and around the communities of Louisville and Superior at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and ripped through at least 9.4 square miles. Experts said the region’s extremely dry autumn and winter coupled with high winds help the fire spread rapidly in single-digit temperatures with six inches of snow already on the ground.
At least seven people were hurt, authorities said. By Saturday, the fire was no longer declared an immediate threat.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Utility officials found no downed power lines around where the fire broke out.
Sheriff Pelle on Saturday said that his department had received several tips and had executed a search warrant at one location. He provided no additional details.
While initially all persons were believed to be accounted for, three were reported missing on Saturday.
“This is really a crisis in fast motion, the way that this has quickly moved to destroy nearly 1,000 homes and many more damaged, affecting many more thousands of people,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Sunday.
“For many I know it’s a surreal experience,” he said. “Just a few days ago you were sitting at home celebrating Christmas and hanging your stockings, and now home and hearth have been destroyed. And it’s a shock, and I know the reality has even set in for those who’ve lost everything and for those who still aren’t able to return to their homes.”
Gov. Polis had toured the affected area with federal officials on Sunday to assess the damages.
He described the “odd and disturbing juxtaposition” of seeing shells of burnt-out vehicles and foundations where homes once stood covered in snow while still smoldering.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, a Colorado native and former firefighter from nearby Aurora, said seeing the destruction firsthand was a difficult experience.
“We did just tour the area and the pictures that I was seeing on the television before today don’t even come close to what you see when you see it in person and the amount of devastation.”
Most of the 991 buildings confirmed destroyed by the fire were homes. At least eight businesses were damaged at a shopping center in Louisville and another dozen businesses damaged in Superior.
The two towns are about 20 miles northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.
The governor said that he will be working with local, state and federal officials to find temporary housing for the fire victims, noting the tight, expensive housing market in the area.
“There’s clearly not this kind of rental housing inventory in the Boulder market, and so for some folks they can resettle elsewhere in Aurora or Denver …” he said, adding that there’s a possibly of providing “temporary on site living” for families in an RV.
“It’s going to be challenging,” he said.
He said utility crews were already working to reignite electricity and natural gas service for those whose homes are still standing.
With Post Wires