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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Colorado wildfires: What we know

People deliver donations to the YMCA of Northern Colorado in Layafette, Colo., late Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, for people affected by wildfires that swept through suburban neighborhoods in Boulder County. Wildfires fueled by high winds in Colorado swept through suburban areas near Denver on Thursday, burning at least 500 homes and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.

By Mike Ives and Alyssa Lukpat

The Colorado wildfires that swept through suburban areas near Denver on Thursday may have been the most damaging in the state’s history, as they burned roughly 1,000 homes and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.

Here’s what we knew as of Sunday:

How and why did the fires spread?

The fires began Thursday morning and spread with astonishing speed across suburban neighborhoods in Boulder County. Authorities said around 6,200 acres were burned.

Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County said Thursday that he believed the fires had been started by downed power lines. However, investigators have not found any evidence of that.

The sheriff on Saturday said that authorities had executed a search warrant “on one particular location where we’re investigating,” but added, “I don’t have probable cause to understand what caused it.”

While wildfires usually occur in Colorado’s mountainous region, far from where most of its residents live, the Marshall fire attacked drought-stricken suburban neighborhoods instead.

The wildfires came unusually late in the year for Colorado, where severe drought conditions in recent months have set the stage for such blazes to spread with ease.

A state of emergency was declared.

The fires Thursday burned around 1,000 homes, a shopping complex and a hotel, authorities said.

No deaths or major injuries had been reported as of Sunday, but Pelle said three people had been reported missing. One had been found alive, but authorities were still searching for the other two: a woman from Superior and a man from an area near Marshall. The search efforts were hampered by debris and snow, the sheriff said.

For many residents whose homes were spared, life has not returned to normal. Around 1,600 households remained without power Sunday, according to Xcel Energy in Colorado, the local provider.

Some have likened the damage from the fires to that of the 2013 Black Forest fire, at the time the most destructive in Colorado’s history. That fire destroyed roughly half as many homes as the one Thursday, but it killed two people.

Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday declared a state of emergency, a decision that allows the state to tap emergency funds and to deploy the Colorado National Guard and other resources. He called the fires a “force of nature.”

The Boulder area was hit with high winds, then fires, then snow.

First came the powerful winds, including gusts of nearly 110 mph, which fanned the wildfires.

The winds came two weeks after a powerful storm system generated dust clouds in Colorado and other extreme weather across the Midwest.

Just two days after they fled a firestorm, many residents Saturday slogged back through snow to their damaged homes. Nearly 1 foot of snow and single-digit temperatures added new items to their list of woes: frozen pipes and water damage.

What happens next?

Authorities have said it will take years to rebuild from the wildfires. Garry Sanfaçon, Boulder County’s disaster recovery manager, said the state was not done rebuilding from a disastrous flood that took place nine years ago.

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