Wind-fuelled fires prompt evacuation orders for more than 30,000 residents in two towns just east of the Rockies near Colorado state's Denver city, authorities say.
Thousands of residents in two communities in the US state of Colorado have been ordered to evacuate because of a wind-fuelled wildfire that engulfed parts of the area, burning hundreds of homes, a hotel and a shopping centre.
More than 500 homes are feared to have been destroyed, local officials said on Thursday, of the fast-moving wildfires tearing through near main Denver city.
"We know that approximately 370 homes in the Sagamore subdivision... have been lost. There's a potential of 210 homes lost in Old Town Superior," Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told a news conference.
Pelle said only one injury has been reported, but didn't rule out finding out later about more severe injuries or death.
The wildfires engulfed parts of the area in smoky, orangish skies.
The city of Louisville, which has a population of about 21,000, was ordered to evacuate after residents in Superior, which has 13,000 residents, were told to leave. The neighbouring towns are roughly 32 kilometres northwest of Denver.
A nearby portion of US Highway 36 also was shut down because of fire.
The blaze northwest of Superior was one of several that started in the area on Thursday, at least some sparked by downed powerlines, as winds gusted up to 169 kph and sent flames racing through barren trees, according to the National Weather Service.
Colorado's Front Range, where most of the state’s population lives, had an extremely dry and mild fall, and winter so far has continued to be mostly dry.
Snow was expected on Friday in the region though.
Wildfires. In Colorado. In the middle of winter. A brutal reminder that the climate crisis continues to escalate.pic.twitter.com/1pTLD9I0Wc— Dr. Lucky Tran (@luckytran) December 30, 2021
Wind activity to determine search mission
The first fire erupted just before 10:30 am local [1530 GMT] and was "attacked pretty quickly and laid down later in the day and is currently being monitored" with no structures lost, Pelle said.
A second wildfire, reported just after 11 am, "ballooned and spread rapidly east," Pelle said. The blaze spans 6.5 square kilometres and has engulfed parts of the area in smoky, orangish skies and sent residents scrambling to get to safety.
Tonight's wind activity will determine when crews are able to go in and begin assessing the damage and searching for any victims.
"This is the kind of fire we can't fight head on," Pelle said.
"We actually had deputy sheriffs and firefighters in areas that had to pull out because they just got overrun," he added.
Separately Colorado governor Jared Polis said that destructive wildfires have consumed roughly 1,600 acres so far.
—HOSPITAL EVACUATED—— Dillon Thomas (@DillonMThomas) December 30, 2021
NEW: Centura Health tells @CBSDenver they’ve evacuated Acosta Adventist Hospital’s NICU, ICU and ED patients as the fires in #Boulder County, #Colorado rage.
Structures have been lost.
Patients were moved to Longmont & St. Anthony pic.twitter.com/o7tfvSr1dC
Extreme conditions like these are often from a combination of unusual random, short-term and natural weather patterns heightened by long-term, human-caused climate crisis.
Scientists have long warned that the weather will get wilder as the world warms. Climate crisis has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years.
A scene straight out of an apocalyptic movie was captured in bystander video outside a Costco in Superior. It shows winds whipping through the barren trees in the parking lot surrounded by gray skies, a hazy sun and small fires scattered across the ground.
Leah Angstman and her husband were returning to their home in Louisville from Denver International Airport after being away for the holidays. As they were sitting on the bus going toward Boulder, Angstman recalled instantly leaving clear blue skies and entering clouds of brown and yellow smoke.
"The wind rocked the bus so hard that I thought the bus would tip," she wrote in a message to The Associated Press.
The visibility was so poor that the bus had to pull over and they waited a half-hour until a regional transit authority van escorted them to a turnaround on the highway. There she saw four separate fires burning in bushes across the freeway, she said.
"The sky was dark, dark brown, and the dirt was blowing in swirls across the sidewalk like snakes," she said.