Over 30,000 Coloradans ordered to evacuate as fires overtake their towns
More than 30,000 residents across three communities outside Denver were forced to evacuate Thursday afternoon after wildfires fueled by strong winds and downed power lines rapidly grew across the area. Authorities say hundreds of homes and buildings have burned.
Boulder County's Office of Emergency Management ordered residents in both the city of Louisville, Colo., and in the town of Superior to quickly evacuate the area, as officials with the National Weather Service for Denver and Boulder called the situation "life-threatening." Residents in parts of nearby Broomfield are also now under a mandatory evacuation order.
Louisville and Superior are some four miles apart, both about 20 minutes southeast of Boulder.
In a news conference on Thursday evening, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle estimated that close to 600 homes, a Target shopping complex and a hotel had been destroyed by fire in the area, Pelle said. Other structures in and around Superior may have been lost or damaged. One fire had burned more than 1,600 acres in a suburban area, Pelle said.
As of this time, there currently are no reports of casualties or missing people.
"Due to the magnitude of this fire, the intensity of this fire and its presence in such a heavily populated area, we would not be surprised if there are injuries or fatalities," Pelle said.
Pelle said only one injury had been reported as of Thursday evening, that of one first responder who got debris in his eye. An additional six people who were injured in the fires are being treated at UCHealth Broomfield Hospital, about 30 minutes away from Boulder, spokesperson Kelli Christensen told NPR member station Colorado Public Radio. There is no word yet on their condition.
A nearby portion of U.S. Highway 36 also was shut down.
"If you're in the area, please act quickly," the Boulder Office of Emergency Management said in a tweet to Louisville residents.
Smoke was visible from miles away in the city of Boulder, with widespread wind gusts in the area reaching up to 100 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency in response to the wildfires, allowing for the state to quickly access its emergency response resources for residents, including the Colorado National Guard.
"Prayers for thousands of families evacuating from the fires in Superior and Boulder County," Polis said in a tweet. "Fast winds are spreading flames quickly and all aircraft are grounded."
Mountain View Deputy Fire Marshal Michelle Kelly told member station CPR that she didn't have an estimate of the number of firefighters working the wildfire. "We do have resources from all along the front range and mountain communities that are assisting," Kelly said.
Xcel Energy, the utility company servicing customers in the area, is reporting more than 305 power outages across Colorado, with 31,000 customers impacted, as of 7 p.m., local time. The highest number of outages is around the Boulder area, where crews have responded to at least three fires due to downed power lines.
Dry weather and high winds have made winter wildfires more likely in Colorado — a pattern likely to become more frequent due to climate change, CPR reports.
The powerful winds that fanned the flames during the day have died down to lighter gusts in the region, promising better fighterfighting conditions on Friday.
By Friday morning, the Denver area will content with a cold front and snow showers, reports the NWS.
This is a developing story. Some facts reported by the media may later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene, and we will update as the situation develops.