Updated Dec 31, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Fast-moving wildfires burn at least 580 homes near Denver

A firefighter walks through the smoke and haze after a wildfire swept through the area in Louisville, Colorado. Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images.

Ferocious hurricane-force winds helped spark wildfires that spread to over 1,600 acres and prompted hasty evacuations near Denver, Colorado, including the entire town of Superior and city of Louisville.

The latest: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon as a result of the fires, enabling the government to access emergency disaster funds in response to the situation.

  • About 580 homes were lost in Superior, Boulder sheriff Joe Pelle said. A hotel and a shopping center were also burned, Pelle added.
  • He said that there was one reported injury, but that there likely could be more injuries and deaths because of how fast the fire moved. As of Thursday, there are no missing persons reports.
  • The highest wind gusts on Thursday was a staggering 115 mph, per NWS Boulder.

Driving the news: Several small grass fires were sparked in the region by downed power lines and blown transformers, Fox 31 Denver reported.

  • The Boulder Office of Emergency Management has opened evacuation sites for two identified fires, the Marshall Fire and Middle Fork Fire.
  • Pell said the preliminarily cause of the fires may be due to downed power lines, but an actual determination will come later in the week.

What they're saying: "Prayers for thousands of families evacuating from the fires in Superior and Boulder County. Fast winds are spreading flames quickly and all aircraft are grounded," Polis tweeted.

The big picture: The blazes have been fueled by extremely strong, down-sloping winds, which involve air moving off the Rocky Mountains and down the foothills, into communities including Boulder. These winds have exceeded 100 mph at times, the equivalent of a strong Category 1 hurricane.

  • Wildfires in northern Colorado are unusual for this time of year, but the area is experiencing a severe long-term drought. This is providing the blazes with an ample supply of dry grasses and other fuels to burn.
  • Much of Colorado, including Denver, is expecting a significant winter storm to hit Friday, which along with colder temperatures and higher humidity levels could help firefighters bring the blazes under control.
  • Satellite imagery has shown heat signatures located close to areas where homes and businesses are located.

Andrew Freedman contributed reporting.

Editor's note: This headline and story have been corrected to say the fires are near Denver, Colorado, not in the Denver metro area.

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