Hurricane-force winds fueled wildfires near Boulder, Colorado, destroying hundreds of homes, overwhelming firefighters and forcing the evacuation of entire drought-stricken towns.
More than 500 dwellings were engulfed in flames on Thursday, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle reported at a news briefing, warning there could be casualties.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who lives in Boulder, declared a state of emergency as thousands abandoned the communities of Superior and Louisville, jamming roads and highways. Residents in other parts of Boulder County were warned they too may need to leave.
“We saw a line of flames at least a mile long” as we evacuated, Carmen Porter, who lives in Boulder near Louisville, said in a telephone interview. “Houses in the subdivision to the south, across the road from us, burned for sure.”
Wind gusts roaring in from the Rocky Mountains reached as high as 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour, according to the National Weather Service. “If you are in Louisville, this is a life threatening situation. Leave Now!,” the weather service said on Twitter.
The primary blaze, the Marshall fire, had burned about 1,600 acres as of 5 p.m., the Denver Gazette reported.
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Radar images from the weather service showed a plume of smoke that stretched for more than 70 miles, and more than 51,000 homes and businesses are without power, according to Power outage.us, which tracks utility outages.
“We are literally watching it burn,” said Superior Mayor Clint Folsom, quoted by the Denver Post. “This is devastating for our people.”
Disaster services opened evacuation centers in Boulder County, including a site for horses and other large animals. The weather service is forecasting heavy snow for the area on Friday.
Patients at Centura-Avista Adventist Hospital in Superior were “safely evacuated” to other facilities, hospital operator Centura said in a statement.
—With assistance from Stephen Stapczynski
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