USA: Wildfire in Colorado destroyed 1,000 homes...


USA: Wildfire in Colorado destroyed 1,000 homes.

At least 6 inches of snow and shallow temperatures make for an eerie scene among the still-lit debris. Yet, despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke permeates the empty streets. Rescuers search for three missings.

A Colorado official confirmed to the AP that about 1,000 homes had been destroyed, with hundreds more damaged. Three people are missing after a forest fire engulfed several neighborhoods on a Rocky Mountain suburb northwest of Denver.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle also said Saturday that investigators are still trying to find the cause of the fire that broke out Thursday.

The windswept wildfire blackened entire neighborhoods in the area between Denver and Boulder.

Pelle said officials were organizing teams to search for the missing in the Superior area and unincorporated Boulder County. He said that the task is complicated by debris from the destroyed structures, covered by 8 inches of snow thrown by a storm overnight.

At least 991 homes were destroyed, Pelli said: 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior, and 106 in unincorporated parts of the county. However, he cautioned that the count was not final.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. 

Utility officials did not find any leaky power lines around the blaze, Pelle said. He said authorities were pursuing a series of Leeds and had executed a search warrant at a "specific location". He did not want to give further details.

The news came as snowfall and freezing temperatures on Saturday night added to the suffering of hundreds of Colorado survivors who had just returned from the start of the new year in their homes.

At least 6 inches of snow and single-digit temperatures drew an eerie scene among the remains of the houses that still burned. Yet, despite the shocking weather change, the smell of smoke continued to permeate the empty streets blocked by National Guard troops in Humvees.

Red Cross volunteers distributed electric heaters as utility crews struggled to restore natural gas and electricity for the thousands of residents whose homes survived the conflagration.

At least seven people were injured in the fire that broke out in Louisville and Superior, neighboring cities about 20 miles northwest of Denver and with a combined population of 34,000.

The fire, which has burned at least 24 square kilometers, is no longer considered an immediate threat.

Families forced to flee the flames with little warning began returning to their neighborhoods on Friday to find a mosaic of devastation. In some blocks, houses reduced to smoking ruins stood next to others practically unscathed from the fires.

"For 35 years, when I walked out my front door, I saw beautiful houses," said Eric House. "Now when I go out, my house is standing. I go out the front door, and this is what I see: destruction".

Cathy Glaab discovered that her house in Superior had been turned into a heap of charred and twisted rubble. It was one of the seven houses in a row that were destroyed. "The mailbox is standing," Glaab said, trying to crack a tearful smile. And sadly added: "So many memories."

Despite the devastation, she said they intended to rebuild her and her husband's house in 1998. They love that the grounds overlook a wilderness area and that they have mountain views from the rear.

After seeing firefighters on the news trying to save his burning house, Rick Dixon feared there was nothing to go back to. On Friday, Dixon, his wife, and son found it almost destroyed with a massive hole in the ceiling but still standing.

"We thought we had lost everything," she said as she put her mother-in-law's dishes in padded containers. They also recovered sculptures that belonged to Dixon's father and piles of clothes that were still on the hangers.

As flames swept through drought-stricken neighborhoods with alarming speed, propelled by gusts of up to 105 mph (169 kph), tens of thousands of people were ordered to flee.

With some roads still closed, people returned home to get clothes or medicine, turn off the water to prevent the pipes from freezing, or see if they still had a house. Then, they went out carrying backpacks and pulling suitcases or cars down the sidewalk.

David Marks was on a hillside overlooking Superior and others, using a pair of binoculars and a long-range camera lens to see if his house, and those of his neighbors, were still there. Still, he couldn't say for sure if your house were okay. He said that at least three friends had lost their homes.

He had seen from the hillside how the neighborhood burned.

"I had never seen anything like it. ... One house after another, fences, things flying through the air, simply set on fire".

President Joe Biden declared a major catastrophe in the area on Friday, ordering that federal aid be made available to those affected.

The forest fire broke out unusually late in the year, following extremely dry autumn and in the middle of winter with almost no snow until the night snowfall.

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

Scientists say climate change makes the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

90% of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought and has not seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer. Denver broke the record for consecutive days without snow before receiving a minor storm on Dec. 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.