“New Year’s Miracle”: No fatalities in Colorado fire that destroys up to 1,000 homes

Sara B. Hansen

Firefighters work to extinguish flames in Louisville, Colo., on Dec. 31.Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

By Sara B. Hansen / NewsBreak Denver

(Boulder County) Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said “it’s unbelievable we don’t have a list of 100 missing persons,” during a Friday morning news conference to discuss wind-whipped wildfires that devastated the county Thursday.

After completing an aerial tour of the burn area, Pelle, Gov. Jared Polis and other officials updated the media on the fire’s damage.

Wind gusts of up to 105 mph drove the fire in a hopscotch burn pattern, destroying some homes and leaving others untouched, Polis said.

“This was a disaster in fast motion. It happened in the blink of an eye, and people had minutes to evacuate,” he said.

The full extent of the damage is yet to be determined. Some homes showed partial damage, while others were “smoking pits,” Pelle said.

“I would estimate it’s going to be at least 500,” Pelle said. “I would not be surprised if it’s 1,000.”

Officials have not officially determined the fire’s cause but suspect downed power lines sparked it.

The fire quickly consumed a 6,000-acre burn area with about 2,000 homes. While areas still smolder, officials do not anticipate the fire will surge again. Snow has started falling and will help extinguish what’s still burning.

Friday’s forecast calls for widespread snow showers.

“Mountain strong”

Polis and fellow politicians U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse all stressed the strength of Coloradans. They promised the state and federal governments would help people rebuild.

Although Colorado is used to seeing fires in the mountains, this was different because it burned quickly in an urban-suburban area, Polis said.

Bennet said Coloradans, unfortunately, experience damage from fires and floods.

“But in every single case, we’ve rebuilt back stronger than we were before the disaster occurred,” he said. “We’re mountain strong.”

Neguse acknowledged hundreds of families lost their homes and all their possessions.

“We have a long road to recovery,” he said. “We stand with you and are ready to assist in any way we can.”

Emergency housing

Approximately 200 people are staying at emergency shelters, but with 30,000 displaced, the next big challenge will be finding and creating housing with them.

Polis said the state would work with FEMA to provide as many options for temporary housing as possible.

Want to help?

Make donations to help evacuees at the Boulder County Wildfire Fund.

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Sara is the Denver news manager for NewsBreak. She's held editing roles at The Denver Post, The Des Moines Register, and The Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Denver, CO

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