2 are still missing after the Colorado fire. Survivors count their blessings
LOUISVILLE, Colo .– Search teams have searched for two people who went missing Sunday in the snow-capped but still smoking debris of a massive Colorado wildfire. Meanwhile, people who narrowly escaped the flames sorted through what was left after the blaze.
The flames ravaged at least 9.4 square miles and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes and other buildings in the suburbs between Denver and Boulder. It arrived exceptionally late in the year following an extremely dry fall and the middle of a nearly snowless winter. Experts say these conditions, along with high winds, contributed to the spread of the blaze.
Returning residents survey what’s left
Rex and Barba Hickman sifted through the ashes of their Louisville home with their son and wife.
Their son Austin opened a safe with a grinding tool to reveal gold and silver coins, melted credit cards, keys and the charred remains of the couple’s passports.
They evacuated with their dog, their iPads and the clothes on their backs. Rex Hickman said he was heartbroken to see that there was nothing left of their 23-year-old home.
âThere’s a numbness that hits you first. You know, kind of like you go into crisis mode. You think about what you can do, what you can’t do,â he said. . “The real pain will subside over time.”
The couple need to find rental property and short-term clothing, and their insurance company told them on Sunday that it would take at least two years to rebuild their home.
âWe know how lucky we are,â Rex Hickman said. “We are each other. We have great friends, wonderful families. So many people must suffer much more than we do, and we feel sorry for them.”
While homes that burned to the foundations still smoked in places, the fire was no longer seen as an immediate threat, especially with snow and freezing temperatures on Saturday.
A previously missing person has been found
Authorities first said everyone had been found after the fire. But Boulder County spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said reports of three missing people were later discovered amid the rush to handle the emergency. One of them was found alive, officials said on Sunday.
The teams were still looking for a woman in a house in Superior and a man living near Marshall. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said their homes were “deeply covered in hot debris and covered in snow. It’s a tough job.”
Other investigators were looking to see if the missing people could have made it out, but did not contact family or friends, Pelle said.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis and federal emergency officials visited some of the damaged neighborhoods on Sunday morning.
âI know it’s a tough time in your life if you’ve lost everything or don’t even know what you’ve lost,â Polis said after the tour. “A few days ago you were celebrating Christmas at home and hanging up your stockings and now the house and the foyer have been destroyed.”
Authorities are still investigating what started the fire
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Utilities officials could not find any downed power lines around where the fire started.
Pelle said on Saturday that authorities were seeking a number of tips and executed a search warrant at “a particular location”. The sheriff declined to give details again on Sunday, especially if he believed the fire was on.
âIt’s complicated and everything is covered with a foot of snow,â Pelle said of the scene where the fire started. “The outcome of this investigation is vital – there is so much at stake. We are going to be professional. We are going to be careful.”
Of at least 991 buildings destroyed by the fire, most were houses. But the fire also burned down eight businesses at a Louisville mall, including a nail salon and a Subway restaurant. In the neighboring Superior, 12 businesses were damaged, including a Target, Chuck E. Cheese, a Tesla dealership, a hotel and the town hall.
The two cities are approximately 20 miles northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.
The flames stopped about 100 yards from the Susan Hill property in Louisville. She slept in her house on Saturday night using a heater and hot water bottles to keep warm because her natural gas service had not been turned back on.
She choked on remembering seeing the sky change color and running nervously out of town with her college-aged son and the dog, the cat and a household with birth certificates and d ‘other documents.
âI don’t even know how to describe it,â she said. “It’s so sad. It’s so horrible. It’s just devastating.”
Utility crews expected to restore power to homes still standing on Sunday, but warned gas service could take longer to return.
People lined up to get heaters, bottled water and blankets at Red Cross shelters. Xcel Energy urged other residents to use fireplaces and wood stoves to stay warm and keep their pipes from freezing.
Superior resident Jeff Markley arrived in his truck to pick up a heater. He said he felt lucky to be “just moved” since his house is intact.
âWe are doing, staying with friends and optimistic for the new year. It must be better than this last,â said Markley.
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