Colorado Fires Hit up to 1,000 Homes, Spread in Blink of Eye
(Bloomberg) -- The infernos near Boulder, Colorado, destroyed as many as 1,000 homes, overwhelming firefighters as hurricane-force gusts propelled flames through suburban neighborhoods left tinder dry by months of drought.
The blazes dashed erratically from house to house, scorching about 6,000 acres (2,400 hectares) and devouring structures “in just a blink of an eye,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said at a Friday news conference after taking an aerial tour of the disaster. Authorities suspect the grass fires were touched off by power lines that toppled in the 100-mile (161-kilometer) per-hour winds. No deaths have been reported.
“It’s unbelievable we don’t have a list of 100 missing persons -- but we don’t,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said during the briefing. He estimated 500 to 1,000 homes were damaged.
The wildfires are the most recent bout of extreme weather as climate change and a La Nina weather pattern leaves much of the U.S. West hotter and drier. Most of the region, including all of Colorado, are gripped by drought. More than 2.5 million acres have burned this year in California alone. The area around Boulder, a college town northwest of Denver, hasn’t had significant rain or snow for months.
U.S. President Joe Biden, who spoke earlier with Colorado’s governor about the fires, told reporters that he may visit the state.
Colorado’s wildfire season typically ends in autumn, but the region is so dry and devoid of snow that it remains primed for blazes. They come just weeks after unseasonably warm weather helped spur deadly tornadoes in Kentucky and a rare and violent wave of thunder and wind storms known as a derecho in Nebraska and Kansas.
The area that burned is at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, a region called the Front Range. Much of the terrain is prairie, and many of the homes destroyed were recently built, with wood frames.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the blazes and said it wasn’t clear which power lines may have been involved.
Xcel Energy Inc., a utility that serves the region, inspected all its lines at the site and didn’t find any had toppled over, according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. The company did find “compromised” communication lines nearby, but those typically wouldn’t start a fire, the agency said in a statement.
Xcel shares were down 0.5% at 3:35 p.m. in New York, after earlier falling as much as 2.7%.
Also See: Xcel Falls; KeyBanc Sees Colorado Fires as ‘Transitory Overhang’
Polis, who lives in Boulder, declared a state of emergency Thursday as thousands abandoned the communities of Superior and Louisville, jamming roads and highways. Firefighters from as far as Denver, about 30 miles to the south of Boulder, answered the alarm.
Some building sites in Superior were reduced to “smoking holes in the ground,” the sheriff said.
About 16,000 homes and businesses across the state, mostly in Boulder County, were without power as of 3:15 p.m. Friday, according to Poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outages. That’s down from more than 47,000 late Thursday.
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