Fast-moving wildfires in Colorado ― once an unusual phenomenon for this time of year ― forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate Thursday as hundreds of homes went up in flames.
At least two blazes, the Middle Fork fire and the Marshall fire, have been named so far. Authorities have called for the immediate evacuation of more than 30,000 people in the towns of Louisville and Superior, which are both southeast of Boulder.
“This fire is frankly a force of nature,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said at a press briefing, saying winds helped move fires “the space of a football field in a matter of seconds.”
There aren’t yet any reports of deaths or missing people, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said, but it “wouldn’t surprise us if we do find casualties.”
“We’re potentially talking about more than 500 homes” lost to the fire, he added. All 370 homes In Superior’s Sagamore subdivision have been destroyed. But people north of the evacuation zones should be “in pretty good shape,” Pelle said.
Polis declared a state of emergency on Thursday, allowing the state to access special response funds and provide resources from the state’s National Guard and other emergency response teams.
The National Weather Service’s Boulder office reiterated the need for residents to evacuate promptly and emphasized that strong winds are fueling the situation. “Never a good sign when radar shows a smoke plume this strong,” the office tweeted, alongside a map demonstrating how much winds had spread smoke around the region.
Earlier in the day, the Boulder NWS office recorded a staggering 110 mph gust of wind at one highway intersection. Other wind speeds in the region reached into the 80s and 90s, toppling trees and trucks.
In one harrowing video shared to Twitter, families are trying to escape a Chuck E. Cheese in Superior as flames encroach on the building. They struggle to open the front door as a powerful wind pushes against it.
“The end will not come until the wind subsides,” Pelle said, saying he’s hopeful that will be tomorrow.
Colorado has had an unusually warm and dry winter so far, with very little snow ― conditions that exacerbate the potential for catastrophic fires. The entire state is experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with about two-thirds of the total land surface categorized as being in “severe drought” or worse.