© Reuters. Structures burned, including the Element Hotel, as a wind-forced forced evacuation of the suburbs of Boulder, Colorado, USA, December 30, 2021. Trevor Hughes / USA TODAY NETWORK via REUTERS
By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) – A strong fire caused by the wind destroyed hundreds of houses, injured at least half a dozen people and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents in and around two cities east of the Rockies near Denver, authorities said Thursday.
The fast-spreading prairie grass fire is believed to be ignited by sparks from power lines and transformers blown down by strong winds on Colorado’s arid Front Range, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said.
Evacuation orders were first issued to all residents of Superior Colorado, with about 13,000 residents, and a short time later to neighboring Louisville County, home to more than 18,000 residents, the Boulder County Emergency Bureau said. Twitter (NYSE :).
Separately, the office of the National Meteorological Service in Boulder tweeted: “All superiors under the evacuation order. GO NOW!”
Within hours, the fire engulfed about 1,600 acres (647.5 acres) and destroyed more than 500 homes, Pelle told reporters at a briefing.
He said the entire unit of 370 houses burned in the flames west of Superior, and that 210 apartments in the Old Town of Superior were lost, along with additional residences in the area.
Governor Jared Polis said the flames engulfed football fields in just seconds, calling the fire a “natural force”.
“This is the kind of fire you can’t fight at all,” the sheriff said, adding that firefighters and ambulance staff “are essentially running ahead of this just trying to get people out of the way. That’s all you can do.”
Pelle said tens of thousands of residents of the area are under evacuation orders.
Among the evacuees were several patients from Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville (NYSE) who were considered particularly sensitive to smoke inhalation, Kevin Massey, a spokesman for the Centura Health network, told Reuters.
“We are moving some patients to the intensive care unit and newborns because it is safe,” he said.
Six people have been taken care of from injuries in forest fires at UCHealth Hospital in the neighboring town of Broomfield, spokeswoman Kelli Christensen said. But she declined to specify the nature of the injuries or the condition of the patients.
The extent of property losses is not immediately known, but KMGH-TV, a local subsidiary of ABC News, broadcast footage of at least one house engulfed in flames near Louisville.
A high cloud of smoke from a forest fire was visible in Denver, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south.
Boulder recorded gusts of up to 110 miles (177 km) per hour, according to the National Weather Service, which said fast-moving fires were creating a “life-threatening situation” in the Superior and Louisville areas.
The polis has declared a state of emergency allowing disaster funding to be used to support emergency efforts in Boulder County and allow the Colorado National Guard and other state resources to be mobilized as needed.
The fire on the outskirts of the Denver metropolitan area, which remained dry from the extreme drought that hit eastern Colorado, followed several days of heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains in the west. However, forecasts predict that snow will hit Denver and eastern Colorado from Friday.