Cause of destructive Colorado wildfires remains under investigation
Scenes of devastation were apparent throughout several northern Colorado communities Friday, one day after hurricane-force winds quickly whipped up several fast-spreading wildfires that forced more than 35,000 people to flee at a moment's notice.
Officials said the rapidly moving fires likely destroyed at least 500 homes in Boulder County, as well as a hotel and a shopping center, according to The Associated Press. At least seven people have been injured, including a first responder, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said, according to the AP. One person who was missing has been located, and no casualties have been reported as of Friday morning.
"It’s unbelievable when you look at the devastation that we don’t have a list of 100 missing persons," Pelle said in a press conference on Friday. Officials and locals are holding out hope that the numbers will still hold no casualties as the last ember cools.
"We might have our very own New Year's miracle on our hands if it holds up that there was no loss of life," Gov. Jared Polis said at the press conference.
The Boulder Office of Emergency Management requested on Friday morning that anyone who had to evacuate due to the fires should not return to their property until notified by local officials. As a result of water pressure declining, a boil advisory was issued for Louisville Thursday. Superior was placed under boil advisory Friday.
As of early Saturday morning, over 6,300 customers were without power in Boulder County, according to PowerOutage.US.
The cause of the fires remains under investigation. Though early reports from officials indicate that they may have been sparked by downed power lines, a recent inspection by emergency management alongside Xcel Energy, an electrical service company that serves the area, found no downed powerlines in the ignition area, according to the Boulder OEM. A search warrant in relation to the origin of the fire has been issued by Boulder County authorities.
The Marshall Fire and the Middle Fork Fire, two of the blazes that ignited Thursday, are considered the most destructive wildfires in Colorado history, according to Colorado Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg. The Marshall Fire started near Marshall Drive and Cherryvale Road near the towns of Superior and Louisville, each located south of the city of Boulder, according to the Boulder Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The total acreage burned is estimated to be at 6,000 acres.
Top wind gusts across Colorado and Wyoming as of Thursday, Dec. 30.
The Boulder County fire command issued an order of evacuation for Louisville, home to about 20,000 people, around 2:15 p.m. Thursday local time as the fire developed into what the National Weather Service called a "life-threatening situation." Superior, located about 20 miles northwest of Denver and home to some 13,000 people, was also ordered to evacuate.
Polis had declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon in response to the fires, allowing the state to access disaster emergency funds and services.
While over 100-mph wind gusts had further complicated firefighting efforts on Thursday, AccuWeather meteorologists say that Mother Nature could provide significant aid to firefighting efforts in the coming days as a major storm evolves over the middle of the nation.
"Moisture that arrives in the area over the weekend can help to give firefighters an upper hand as they continue to battle the blaze," AccuWeather Meteorologist Mary Gilbert said.
Forecasters say it will be cold enough for all snow to fall in the area with 6 inches or more of accumulation possible. This amount of snowfall should help to extinguish most, if not all, of the region's active blazes.
By Friday evening, 3.4 inches of snow had already fallen at the National Weather Service office in Boulder, Colorado with another 5.1 inches in Greeley and 4 inches in the Fort Collins-Loveland area.
Additional reporting by AccuWeather National Reporter Tony Laubach
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