The fires that destroyed “in the blink of an eye” entire neighborhoods of the state of Colorado, in the western United States, are out on Friday (31st) with snow that quells recent outbreaks.
At least 500 homes were turned into smoke and tens of thousands of people had to flee, but so far, no deaths have been reported, a “miracle,” according to Governor Jared Polis.
The devastation is massive: in the aerial photographs, entire streets can be seen reduced to ash and smoke. Unlike other fires, these fires were not limited to the countryside but reached the suburbs.
“The families only had a few minutes to gather what they could – animals and children – in the car and flee,” Polis said at a news conference on Friday. The governor said it all happened “in the blink of an eye”.
Last night, flames marred the orange sky, fueled by gusts of winds of up to 160 km/h. It appears that the cause of the fire was the fall of electric poles on dry ground.
There is no information yet on the number of homes destroyed. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Bailey today put the number at more than 500, and said he “would not be surprised if there were more than 1,000.”
He explained that the fire spread as a “mosaic”, so some neighborhoods were saved while homes on the other side were burned.
“When you look at the devastation, it’s surprising that we don’t have a list of 100 missing people, but we don’t,” declared the sheriff.
In a phone call with Governor Polis, President Joe Biden promised to do “everything possible to provide immediate assistance to affected people and localities,” according to the White House.
Snow covered ash on Friday.
The US Weather Service (NWS) has put part of this mountainous state on alert for a winter storm and is expecting heavy snowfall in the coming days.
Snow will “help us,” Bailey said, who doubts the fire will spread again now.
Some eviction orders have been suspended by local authorities overnight, but locations such as Superior, which has a population of 13,000, are still accessible.
Patrick Kilbride, 72, was working when he was ordered to evict. He only managed to save his car and the clothes he was wearing. The rest, the house he lived in for three decades, has been reduced to “ashes,” he told the Denver Post.
Like much of the American West, Colorado is an arid state that has experienced exceptional drought for years.
With global warming, the intensity and frequency of droughts and heat waves are likely to increase further, creating favorable conditions for wildfires.
In recent years, the American West has experienced unprecedented fires, particularly in California and Oregon.
For UCLA meteorologist Daniel Swain, “it’s hard to believe” that the fires happen in December.
“However, take Autumn [no hemisfério norte] Record heat and dryness, with just an inch of snow so far, adds a gale with heavy winds. […] The result will be very dangerous fires that move very quickly.”
In addition to the fires, the United States has recently experienced other extreme events, such as the passage of Storm Ida in New York and New Jersey in September and the deadly December hurricanes in Kentucky. To date, it is not known whether the latter is related to global warming.
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