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Colorado wildfire: Up to 1,000 buildings destroyed as Biden declares disaster

Up to 1,000 buildings may have been destroyed in the record-breaking fire that swept through a Colorado area bordering the Rocky Mountains, while Joe Biden declared the situation a disaster and experts warned that the climate crisis and suburban expansion have contributed to the devastation.

After declaring it a miracle, based on the latest information, no one was killed in the fire that swept through Boulder County with little notice on Thursday, officials said more than 500 and as many as 1,000 homes and businesses may contain leveled the ground.

Hundreds of residents who had expected to ring in their homes by 2022 instead tried to start the new year on Saturday to save what was left of them.

Families forced to flee the flames with little warning returned Friday to their neighborhoods in the cities of Louisville and Superior, with a combined population of 34,000, north of the state capital Denver, to find a patchwork of devastation.

At least seven were said to have been injured. Boulder Sheriff Joe Pelle said that as authorities continued to work on the aftermath of the fire, the likely toll on homes and businesses would increase as things became clearer.

“I estimate it will be at least 500″ [and] I wouldn’t be surprised if there are 1,000,” Pelle said on Friday.

He added that many structures were reduced to just “smoking holes in the ground”.

It has been considered the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.

Boulder Sheriff Joe Pelle said that as authorities continued to work on the aftermath of the fire, the likely toll on homes and businesses would increase as things became clearer. Photo: Carl Glenn Payne/ZUMA Press Wire Service/REX/Shutterstock

Many homeowners were already talking about rebuilding in the same place on Saturday.

Cathy Glaab found her home in Superior had turned into a pile of charred and twisted rubble, one of seven houses in a row that had been destroyed. “So many memories,” she said through tears.

She and her husband plan to rebuild the house they have had there since 1998, she said, as they love the natural space behind it and the view of the mountains.

Boulder County borders the eastern reaches of the Rockies, an area known locally as the Front Range. To the west is Rocky Mountain National Park.

Flames had moved east through grassland and drought-ravaged neighborhoods at alarming speed, propelled by gusts of wind up to 105 mph, while tens of thousands were ordered to flee. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Light snow fell on Friday, putting out the fire that had burned up to 10 square miles, but snowfall in the area this winter has been late and light.

With temperatures forecast to be well above freezing in the county Monday and Tuesday, the risk of fires remains, even though massive wildfires in December are not common in Colorado.

The US president declared Friday a major disaster in the area and ordered federal aid to be made available to those affected.

Superior and Louisville are filled with middle- and upper-middle-class subdivisions that include shopping malls, parks, and schools. The area is located between Denver and Boulder, home to the University of Colorado.

Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and devastating.

Ninety percent of Boulder County is experiencing severe or extreme drought and no significant rain has fallen since mid-summer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before experiencing a minor storm on Dec. 10, the last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.

Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist at the Colorado State University Climate Center, tweeted: “The ingredients for a devastating wildfire have come together since last spring. A very wet spring 2021 helped the grasses grow. A very dry summer and fall dried out the grasses and prepared the kindling.

“I’ve thought it won’t be long before we start experiencing fires like California, where flames are driving people out of their neighborhoods,” Bolinger said in an interview. with the Denver Post. “I didn’t expect that to happen in December.”

The temperatures have been too high. June to December 2021 was the warmest period on record, Jennifer Balch, a fire scientist and director of the Earth Lab at Colorado University, Boulder, told the paper.

“Climate change is definitely part of this story as fire seasons are longer,” she said.

In addition, Denver’s greater metro area has grown in size with suburbs expanding and new residential areas being built in the Front Range that were just wild grassland a generation ago, leading to massive disruption to those cities when fires strike.