Colorado wildfires force evacuations as hundreds of homes burn

ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports on an end of year nightmare for the residents of Colorado

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and almost 600 buildings have been destroyed as wildfires ripped through an area around Denver in the US.

At least one first responder and six other people were injured, though Boulder County sheriff Joe Pelle acknowledged there could be more injuries and deaths.

The fire intensified across the region as winds gusted up to 105mph.

The first fire erupted just before 10.30am on Thursday and was "attacked pretty quickly and laid down later in the day and is currently being monitored" with no structures lost, Mr Pelle said.

Wildfires continued through the night as tens of thousands faced evacuation over New Year

A second wildfire, reported just after 11am, "ballooned and spread rapidly east," Mr Pelle added.

Several other smaller fires were reported in the region.

At least some of the blazes were sparked by downed power lines.

The blaze spans 2.5 square miles and has engulfed parts of the area in smoky, orangish skies and sent residents scrambling to get to safety.

Strong winds have pushed the fires towards homes and businesses, sending thick smoke billowing across the area

The activity of the fires, which have already struck an estimated 850 homes, will depend on how the winds behave overnight and could determine when crews are able to go in and begin assessing the damage and searching for any victims.

Mr Pelle said: "This is the kind of fire we can’t fight head on. We actually had deputy sheriffs and firefighters in areas that had to pull out because they just got overrun."

Tens of thousands of people will spend the New Year being evacuated, as 21,000 people flee Louisville and 13,000 leave Superior.

The neighbouring towns are roughly 20 miles northwest of Denver in an area filled with middle and upper-middle class subdivisions surrounded by shopping centres, parks and schools.

Footage showed panicked families trying to evacuate from a fast food restaurant as the fires approached.

Panicked families rush to evacuate a restaurant as wildfires near

At Chuck E Cheese in the town of Superior several families rushed to leave after spotting large clouds of smoke heading towards the building just after midday.

A video posted on social media showed the visitors rushing to the doors of the restaurant and struggling to open them with some heard saying the strong winds were making it difficult to push them open.

Small fires cropped up here and there across the area as wind gusts caused the fire to jump and spread.

Homes burn as a wildfire rips through a development near Rock Creek Village Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Shifting winds caused the skies to turn from clear to smoky and then back again as emergency sirens blared nearby.

Six people who were injured in the fires were being treated at UCHealth Broomfield Hospital, spokesperson Kelli Christensen said.

Colorado’s Front Range, where most of the state’s population lives, had an extremely dry and mild autumn, and winter so far has continued to be mostly dry.

A firefighter walks up a road near a home at Middle Fork Road and Foothills Highway north of Boulder, Colorado Credit: Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera via AP

Denver set a record for most consecutive days without snow before it got a small storm on December 10. It has not snowed since, though snow was expected in the region on Friday, leading to hopes it could help put out the fires or at least stop them from spreading so much.

The fires prompted governor Jared Polis to declare a state of a emergency, allowing the state to access disaster emergency funds.

The evacuations come as the climate crisis is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive, scientists say.

A large majority of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and has not seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer.