Colorado fires: Three people missing in fear of death after massive wildfire wiped out entire subdivisions in Colorado county

Two of the missing residents were in Superior and the third individual is from the unincorporated area of ​​Marshall, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon. Corpse dogs will be brought in on Sunday to help with the search.

“Unfortunately, I think it will turn into a recovery event,” added Pelle.

Each of the structures associated with the missing residents is “completely destroyed and covered with eight inches of snow,” the sheriff said. To date, county officials have received five missing person reports and two have been resolved, according to Pelle.

The news comes a day after officials initially said there were no deaths from the blaze, which was miraculous given the speed and ferocity of the Marshall Fire, they said. declared. At the time, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said a person who went missing Thursday night was found.

Authorities flew over the affected area on Friday morning to assess the damage shortly before the weather turned to the other extreme, with a cold front pouring in several inches of snow.

The subdivisions on the west side of Superior and in the old town of Superior had “totally disappeared,” Pelle told a press conference later in the day, adding that the south side of Louisville had also suffered “catastrophic losses. “.

At least 991 homes in Louisville, Superior and unincorporated parts of Boulder County were lost in the blaze, Pelle added.

Over 550 homes in Louisville were destroyed, as were 332 in Superior and 106 other homes were destroyed in the unincorporated parts of the county. 127 other structures were also damaged in the area, Pelle said.

Judy Delaware’s family lost their Louisville home to the blaze, escaping the rapid fires with little more than their dogs and clothes on their backs, she told CNN on Saturday as she stood with his family in the snow that has blanketed the region for the past two days. Now the house is a “rubble heap,” she said.

“It was just like a punch in the stomach,” she said of when she realized her house was gone. “And it can’t be real, it’s so surreal that you can even figure it out, everything you own is gone. Gone.”

Authorities on Thursday announced evacuation orders as the fire quickly spread to suburban neighborhoods. Many of those areas remain blocked because it is “still too dangerous” for residents to return just yet, the sheriff said on Friday.

Authorities continued to visit the burnt properties on Saturday, Senior Mayor Clint Folsom told CNN, checking they were safe and looking for possible victims.

“Part of this recovery effort is having crews go to every property – and we have hundreds of them – to shut off the gas, shut off the water, secure the electricity… and look for any deaths,” he said.

“And now we’ve got a nice blanket of snow over all of these scenes, and that’s going to slow down those efforts,” he said. “I understand that people want to go back to these areas to check their properties, but I just ask everyone to be patient as much as possible.”

The Marshall Fire was one of two fires that started Thursday morning. Fueled by historic winds, its flames swept across drought-dried land, moving “across a football field in seconds,” Governor Jared Polis described at a press conference Thursday.

The other blaze, known as the Middle Fork Fire, was attacked quickly and “resolved,” the sheriff said.

Containment of the Marshall fire remained at 0% on Friday because the fight against the fire is different, fire commander Michael Smith told reporters.

“It’s about working around the perimeters of the houses and working our way through the process,” he said. “We need to sort of change our thinking process about what containment looks like,” he said.

But fire officials did not expect much greater growth in fires as the winds died down and more snow fell. The area has seen between 5 and 8 inches of snow in the past 24 hours, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said Saturday afternoon: Louisville saw 8 inches and Boulder saw 8.2 inches, he said. he declares.

Firefighters are busy containing a fire behind a Tesla factory Friday, December 31, 2021, in Superior, Colorado.

“A hurricane of smoke and fire”

Many residents on the way to the blaze were caught off guard by evacuation orders, and the rush to leave was chaotic, as they scrambled to collect their belongings and pets before fleeing.

“They were ordered to evacuate immediately,” Denver Fire Department spokesman Captain Greg Pixley told CNN on Friday. “People are not prepared for this.”

The Delaware family were together on the day of the fire, chatting with a friend on FaceTime when their son alerted them to the nearby fire. When they went out to take a look, they could tell that things were moving fast.

Prescott Delaware, Judy’s son, estimated the flames to be about 600 yards away. “But with winds of around 100 miles an hour,” he added.

Her partner, Tayler Sustello, described seeing red and orange skies and blackening smoke, and the wind was strong enough to knock her over, she said.

“Things were moving fast,” she said. “And the sound of the wind – honestly, it sounded like a hurricane of smoke and fire.”

A man walks in the devastated area of ​​Louisville, Colorado on December 31, 2021, after a wildfire ravaged the area.

The family only took a few minutes to collect a handful of essentials: phone chargers, their dogs’ leashes and medicine. Judy Delaware grabbed slippers and pajamas, but had to leave other personal belongings behind, like photographs of her parents.

It was overwhelming to drive away and think of all the people she knew who were affected by the blaze, her daughter, Elise Delaware, said.

“Just seeing the house you love and are so proud of going up in smoke is just horrible. It’s horrible,” she said. But she’s just grateful that her loved ones are safe.

Resident Hunt Frye said he was buying soup for his wife at a Costco in Superior when an employee suddenly told customers to evacuate, sending them running. As he walked home, Frye witnessed a frenzied evacuation around him, describing it as an “apocalyptic feeling.”

“People were running away from their homes with their pet cats and, you know, everyone was very freaked out,” he said. “What really struck me was the fear on the face (s) of the police officers who were sort of trying to get the traffic going. They were rightfully scared.”

Although no deaths were reported on Friday, several people were treated for injuries, authorities said.

“In that kind of situation, you honestly expect dozens of deaths,” Polis told CNN Friday night. “It’s thousands of people, many had five minutes to flee. It would be remarkable if there weren’t (dead).”

A horse runs through Grasso Park as smoke from nearby fires obscures visibility, December 30, 2021, in Superior, Colorado.

The cause of the fire is under investigation

The origin of the blaze is still under investigation, but a search warrant has been executed on undisclosed property potentially linked to the blaze, according to Pelle.

The sheriff did not elaborate at Saturday’s press conference except to say that an active investigation is being conducted by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office “in conjunction with federal and state partners.”

The search warrant was obtained on the basis of a community council, he told reporters.

Hundreds of Colorado homes have been lost and tens of thousands of residents have been asked to evacuate due to rapidly growing forest fires

Pelle initially said there were power lines where the Marshall fire started, but confirmed on Saturday that officials had not located any downed power lines.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management (OEM) also said power company Xcel Energy “has not found any broken power lines.”

“Xcel Energy has been a very responsive and invaluable partner. At this point they have inspected all of their lines in the ignition area and found no broken power lines,” Boulder OEM said in a press release.

“They found compromised communication lines which could have been mistakenly identified as power lines. As a general rule, communication lines (telephone, cable, Internet, etc.) would not be the cause of a fire,” adds the press release.

A full investigation is underway, he said.

Authorities are reopening parts of Superior and Louisville today and the return to other areas is expected to increase in the coming days.

CNN’s Natasha Chen and Julia Vargas Jones reported from Louisville, Colorado, while Christina Maxouris, Dakin Andone and Alaa Elassar wrote and reported this story in Atlanta. CNN’s Keith Allen, Raja Razek and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.

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