“So many memories”: more than 500 houses fear they will be destroyed by fire

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Flames explode as wildfires burned near a small shopping mall on Thursday, December 30, 2021, near Broomfield, Colorado.  Homes surrounding the Flatiron Crossing Shopping Center were being evacuated as wildfires raged through the prairies as high winds swept across the western inter-mountain range.  (AP Photo / David Zalubowski)

Flames explode as wildfires burned near a small shopping mall on Thursday, December 30, 2021, near Broomfield, Colorado. Homes surrounding the Flatiron Crossing Shopping Center were being evacuated as wildfires raged through the prairies as high winds swept across the western inter-mountain range. (AP Photo / David Zalubowski)

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A couple returned home on Friday to find the mailbox with the only thing left standing. Charred cars and a burnt trampoline lay in front of smoking houses. On some blocks, houses reduced to smoldering ruins stand side by side with houses practically free from the flames.

Colorado residents driven from their neighborhoods by a terrifying, wind-lashed wildfire had their heartbreaking first look at the damage the next morning, while others could only wait and wonder if their homes were part of it. of the more than 500 people feared to destroy.

At least seven people were injured, but it is remarkable that there were no immediate reports of deaths or missing people as a result of the blaze outside of Denver.

Cathy Glaab discovered that her house in the town of Superior where she lives with her husband had been turned into a pile of charred and twisted debris. It was one of seven houses in a row that burned to the ground.

“The mailbox is standing,” Glaab said, trying to smile through the tears. She added sadly: “So many memories.”

Despite the devastation, she said they plan to rebuild the house they have owned since 1998. They like the land to be a natural space and have a view of the mountains from the back.

Rick Dixon feared there was nothing to come back to after seeing firefighters trying to save his burning house on the news. On Friday Dixon, his wife and 21-year-old son found him largely eviscerated with a gaping hole in the roof but still standing. Only smoldering rubble remained where several neighboring houses once stood in a row right next to theirs.

“We thought we had lost everything,” he said, as he held his mother-in-law’s china in padded containers. They also recovered sculptures that belonged to Dixon’s father and piles of clothes still on hangers.

The wildfire erupted Thursday in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring towns about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.

Tens of thousands of people were ordered to flee as flames swept through drought-stricken neighborhoods at an alarming rate, propelled by guests at up to 105 mph (169 km / h).

In a Superior Costco, two store workers rushed to the checkout lines, one shouting, “Everyone, evacuate, evacuate, evacuate! Said Katrina Peterson, who was inside.

A video she made showed a dark sky and swirling debris outside. The falling ash filled her ears and she had to squint to keep it from entering his eyes. The store remained standing.

The cause of the fire was under investigation. Emergency services said utility officials could not find any downed power lines around where the fire started.

With some roads still closed on Friday, people were walking home to buy clothes or medicine, shut off the water to keep pipes from freezing, or see if they still had a home. They left carrying backpacks and pulling suitcases or carts down the sidewalk.

David Marks stood on a hill overlooking Superior with others, using a pair of binoculars and a long-range camera lens to see if his house and those of his neighbors were still there, but he couldn’t tell with it. certainty if its place was OK. He said at least three friends lost their homes.

From the side of the hill, he had watched the neighborhood burn.

“By the time I got here the houses were completely swallowed up,” he said. “I mean, it happened so fast. I’ve never seen anything like it.… Just house after house, fences, just stuff flying through the air, caught on fire.

By the first light of Friday, the huge flames that had lit the night sky had calmed down and the winds had calmed down. Light snow quickly began to fall and the fire, which burned at least 24 square kilometers, was no longer considered an immediate threat.

“We could have our own New Years miracle on our hands if it confirms that there has been no loss of life,” Gov. Jared Polis said, noting that many people only had a few minutes to clear out.

The wildfire started exceptionally late in the year, following an extremely dry fall and the middle of a nearly snow-free winter so far.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said more than 500 homes were likely destroyed. He and the governor said as many as 1,000 homes could have been lost, although this is not known until crews can assess the damage.

“It’s amazing when you look at the devastation that we don’t have a list of 100 missing people,” the sheriff said.

The sheriff said some communities were reduced to “smoking holes in the ground.” He urged residents to wait until everything is clear to return due to the danger of fire and falling power lines.

Sarah Owens, her husband, adult son and their dog were released from their Superior home within 10 minutes of the evacuation being announced from a Facebook post. But as everyone tried to make their way through the winding streets of affluent Rock Creek, it took them 1.5 hours to walk two miles.

“The good news is I think our house can be okay,” Owens said.

But from now on, she said, she plans to have a bag prepared in case of another fire.

“I never thought that a bushfire could cause this kind of destruction,” Owens said. “I want to stay here. No matter where you live, there will always be natural disasters.”

Superior and Louisville are teeming with subdivisions for the middle and upper middle class with shopping malls, parks and schools. The area lies between Denver and Boulder, home to the University of Colorado.

Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.

Ninety percent of Boulder County experiences severe or extreme drought, and it has not experienced substantial rainfall since midsummer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before there was a small storm on December 10, its last snowfall before wildfires broke out.

Bruce and Mary Janda faced the loss of their 25-year-old Louisville home in person on Friday after learning it had been destroyed thanks to photos from a neighbor.

“We knew the house was destroyed, but I felt the urge to see it, to see what the rest of the neighborhood looked like,” Bruce Janda said. “We are a tight-knit community on this street. We all know each other and we all love each other. It’s hard to see this happening to all of us.

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Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert in Louisville, Colorado, and Thalia Beaty in New York City contributed to this report. Nieberg is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues. Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to this story from Salt Lake City.

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The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/environment.

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