BOULDER, Colo. — After tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate and hundreds of homes were destroyed as wildfires ripped through entire communities, authorities were hoping weaker winds and snowfall would aid efforts to get the flames under control.
Winter storm warnings and watches were in effect Friday morning in the suburbs between Boulder and Denver where forceful winds a day earlier whipped up the intense wildfires that blitzed the area.
With wind gusts over 100 mph in Boulder County and drier than usual conditions, the blazes destroyed around 600 homes, a Target shopping complex and a hotel in the area, according to Sheriff Joe Pelle.
“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.”
‘ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATING’:Wind-driven Colorado wildfires burn hundreds of homes near Boulder
The fires centered on the areas around Superior and Louisville, which were under evacuation orders. Pelle said at a Thursday news conference that one fire had burned over 1,600 acres the area.
“It’s like the neighborhood that you live in,” Gov. Jared Polis said as he described the area being torched. “1,600 acres near a population center can be, and is in this case, absolutely devastating.”
Authorities believed downed power lines may have been the cause of the flames.
At least one first responder was injured and a hospital reported treating several burn victims. No fatalities or reports of missing people have been reported yet.
However, there was hope Friday that an incoming winter storm might bring enough wet conditions to slow further damage from the flames.
About 4 to 8 inches of snow were expected between Denver and Boulder, according to the National Weather Service.
“We’re going to thankfully see rapidly changing weather conditions,” Bruno Rodriguez, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told USA TODAY. “We’ve been waiting for this snow for a while, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Denver was experiencing the driest second half of the year it had on record, the Weather Service said in a tweet. From February to June, precipitation was above normal levels, “but since then, precipitation has flat-lined,” the Weather Service said.
Adding to the fire-friendly conditions were triple-digit wind gusts. In Boulder County, winds reached up to 108 mph, and in nearby Jefferson County, they hit 115 mph.
Rodriguez said the record dry weather and fast-moving winds were “the worst, most terrible combination” causing the wildfires.
On Thursday night, hundreds of people watched from a ridge top as orange flames tore through the Rock Creek neighborhood of Superior, and numerous other fires dotted the horizon.
Pat Kilbride, who has lived in the Old Town area of Superior for 30 years said his house burned down, killing his dog and cat. He said he believed many other homes were also destroyed.
Kilbride rushed toward his house when he heard the fire was approaching the area but couldn’t get close because of road closures. By the time he arrived on foot, it was already engulfed.
“It’s all gone. The whole Old Town,” he said. “I’m going to head back to my truck and feel sorry for myself.”
Contributing: Doyle Rice, Jeanine Santucci and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press