The fires that destroyed “in the blink of an eye” entire neighborhoods of the state of Colorado, in the west of the United States, are going out this Friday (31) with the snowfall that extinguishes the last outbreaks.
At least 500 homes were reduced to 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 destruction is huge: in aerial images it is possible to see entire streets reduced to ash and smoke. Unlike other fires, these were not limited to the countryside and reached the suburbs.
“Families had only a few minutes to gather what they could – animals, children – into a car and flee,” Polis said at a press conference on Friday. It all happened “in the blink of an eye,” the governor said.
Last night, flames tinged the sky orange, fueled by wind gusts of up to 160 km/h. it seems that the fire was caused by the fall of electric poles on dry ground.
There is still no information on the number of houses destroyed. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle today estimated it to be more than 500, and said he “wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than 1,000.”
The fire spread as “a mosaic”, so some neighborhoods were saved while houses on the other side were burned, he explained.
“When you look at the devastation, it’s amazing that we don’t have a list of 100 missing people, but we don’t,” the sheriff declared.
In a phone call to Governor Polis, President Joe Biden promised to do “whatever possible to provide immediate assistance to affected people and localities,” according to the White House.
This Friday the ashes were covered by snow.
The US Weather Service (NWS) has put part of this mountainous state on winter storm alert and forecasts heavy snowfall in the coming days.
The snow “will help us,” said Pelle, who doubts the fire will spread again now.
Some evacuation orders were suspended by local authorities overnight, but access remains prohibited to locations such as Superior, with 13,000 inhabitants.
Patrick Kilbride, 72, was working when he was ordered to evacuate. He only managed to save his car and the clothes he was wearing. The rest, that is, the house where he lived for three decades, was reduced to “ashes”, as he told the Denver Post.
Like much of the American West, Colorado is an arid state that has suffered from exceptional drought for years.
With global warming, it is likely that the intensity and frequency of episodes of drought and heat waves will increase even more, creating conditions that favor forest fires.
In recent years, the American West has suffered from unprecedented fires, particularly in California and Oregon.
For Daniel Swain, a meteorologist at UCLA University, “it’s hard to believe” that the fires are happening in December.
“However, take an autumn [no hemisfério norte] of record heat and drought, with just an inch of snow so far, and add a storm with extreme winds. […] and the result will be extremely dangerous fires that move very fast,” tweeted the researcher.
In addition to the fires, the United States has recently experienced other extreme events, such as the passing of Storm Ida in New York and New Jersey in September and the deadly tornadoes of December in Kentucky. So far, it is not known whether the latter are linked to global warming.