LOUISVILLE, COLO. – Search teams search for two missing people in the smoldering rubble of a major Colorado wildfire while survivors of the blaze sort through the remains of their homes to see what’s remaining.
Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the blaze to spread to at least 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers), leaving nearly 1,000 homes and other buildings destroyed in midtown suburbs. Denver and Boulder.
Hell broke out on Thursday, unusually late in the year after an extremely dry fall and in the midst of a nearly snowless winter. Experts say those conditions, along with high winds, helped the fire spread.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said authorities are pursuing a number of tricks and have executed a search warrant at “a specific location.” The sheriff declined to provide details on Sunday, including whether he thinks the fire was an arson.
“It’s complicated and it’s all covered with a layer of snow,” Pelle said of the scene where the fire started. “The outcome of that investigation is very important – there’s a lot at stake. We’re going to be professional. We’re going to be careful.”
Rex and Barba Hickman sift through the ashes of their Louisville home with his son and wife.
Their son, Austin, opened a safe with a grinding tool to reveal gold and silver coins, melted credit cards, keys and what was left of the couple’s passports. .
They evacuated with the dog, iPad and clothes on their backs. Rex Hickman said he was heartbroken to see their 23-year-old home empty.
“There’s a sense of paralysis that hits you first. You know, it’s like you’re in a state of crisis. You think about what you can do, what you can’t do,” he said. “The real pain will seep over time.”
The couple had to find a rental home and clothes in the short term, and their insurance company told them it would take at least two years to rebuild their home.
“We know how lucky we are,” said Rex Hickman. “We have each other. We have great friends, great family. So many people have suffered more than we have, and we feel for them.”
While foundation fires are still smoldering in some places, the blaze is no longer considered an immediate threat – especially with Saturday’s snow and frigid temperatures.
Authorities initially said everyone was cleared after the fire. But Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said reports of three missing people were later discovered amid a scramble to manage the emergency. One person was found alive, officials said Sunday.
Crews are still looking for a woman at home in Superior and a man who lives near Marshall. Pelle said their home was “deep in hot rubble and covered with snow. It was a difficult task.”
Other investigators are looking into whether the missing people may have been out, but not in contact with their family or friends, Pelle said.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis and federal emergency officials visited some of the damaged neighborhoods Sunday morning.
“I know it’s a tough time in your life if you’ve lost everything or you don’t even know what you’ve lost,” Polis said after the tour. “A few days ago you celebrated Christmas at home and hung your stockings and now the house and fireplace have been demolished.”
Of at least 991 buildings destroyed by the fire, most were residential. But the fire also destroyed eight properties at a Louisville shopping center, including a nail salon and a Subway restaurant. In neighboring Superior, 12 businesses were damaged, including a Target dealership, Chuck E. Cheese, Tesla, a hotel and city hall.
The two towns are about 20 miles (30 km) northwest of Denver and have a combined population of 34,000.
The fire stopped about 100 yards (90 meters) from Susan Hill’s property in Louisville. She slept Saturday night in her home using space heaters and hot water bottles to stay warm because her natural gas service hadn’t been turned back on.
She choked up as she remembered the color of the sky changing color and nervously recalled sprinting out of town with her college-age son and the dog, the cat and a fire box and the birth certificate and other documents.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” she said. “It’s so sad. It’s terrible. It’s just devastating.”
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