SUPERIOR: Fast-moving wildfires in the US state of Colorado destroyed hundreds of homes and forced at least 33,000 people to flee, officials said, as flames tore through areas desiccated by a historic drought.
At least 1,600 acres (650 hectares) have burned in Boulder County, much of it suburban, with officials warning that deaths and injuries were likely as the blaze took hold of a hotel, shopping centre and apartment complex in the town of Superior.
“We know that approximately 370 homes in the Sagamore subdivision… have been lost. There’s a potential of 210 homes lost in Old Town Superior,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told a news conference on Thursday.
“Due to the magnitude and intensity of this fire, and its presence in such a heavily populated area, we would not be surprised if there are injuries or fatalities.”
Colorado media outlets reported that at least six persons were hospitalised with injuries.
About 33,000 people in the towns of Louisville and Superior were told to flee, with the National Weather Service (NWS) describing the situation as “life-threatening”.
Patrick Kilbride, 72, was at work in a hardware store when he heard the order to evacuate, The Denver Post reported. He raced home to gather his possessions, but was unable to save anything other than his car and the clothes he was wearing.
His dog and cat both perished. “It’s ashes,” he said of the home he lived in for three decades.
“It’s just a strange feeling to go from having everything to make your life comfortable to having nothing,” he said.
The fast-moving fires are thought to have begun when power lines were toppled by gusting winds. Winds of over 160 kilometres per hour were reported in some places, fanning flames and preventing aircraft from taking off.
Patti Holtz described the terror of evacuating her Boulder County home.
“The ditches and things and the trees, they’re all up in flames,” she said. “There’s embers everywhere. So it makes me very frightened of course, with the wind, that it’s going to continue to spread to other homes.
“It was so dark, of course, that you just can’t see anything. It’s like the black of night.”
Changing weather conditions may provide some relief, however. NWS cancelled high wind warnings in affected areas late on Thursday and forecast heavy snow across Colorado over the next two days.