Buildings were burnt to the grounds in a matter of hours in Colorado, ITV News' Robert Moore reports
Two people are still missing following devastating wildfires that ripped through a suburban area near Denver, which burned neighbourhoods to the ground and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes and other buildings.
One person previously missing was found alive, officials said on Sunday, but the search for the remaining two was complicated by still burning debris and the snow.
An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fires, as authorities said they were pursuing a number of lines and had carried out a search warrant at “one particular location.”
Officials confirmed a property in the Boulder County’s Marshall Mesa area was under investigation, along with several other properties.
No downed power lines around where the fire broke out in the area located between Denver and Boulder.
The wildfire came unusually late in the year, following an extremely dry autumn and amid a winter nearly devoid of snow - conditions experts say certainly helped the fire spread.
At least 991 homes and other buildings were destroyed, and hundreds more were damaged. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle cautioned the total from the wind-whipped wildfire is not final.
The majority of the buildings destroyed were homes, Boulder County spokesperson Jennifer Churchill said late on Saturday.
Sheriff Pelle said officials were organising cadaver teams to search for the missing in the Superior area and in Boulder County.
But the operation has been made even more complicated due to debris from destroyed buildings and the area being covered by 20cm of snow dumped by a storm overnight.
Panicked families rush to evacuate a restaurant as wildfires near
At least seven people were injured in the wildfire that erupted in and around Louisville and Superior, the neighbouring towns about 20 miles north-west of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.
The blaze, which burned at least 9.4 square miles, was no longer considered an immediate threat — especially with the overnight dumping of snow and freezing temperatures on Saturday.
The snow and temperatures in the single digits cast an eerie scene amid smouldering remains of homes.
Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeated empty streets blocked off by National Guard troops in Humvees.
The conditions compounded the misery of residents who started off the new year trying to salvage what remained of their homes.
Viliam Klein, who lost his home in the fire, said: "I can buy new books, I can buy new furniture but it's really hard to build back a community, and friends. I didn't think it would happen to me but it didn't snow all winter of 2021, no wonder this all went up like kindling."
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their home as the wildfires spread
Donna O'Brien said: "It came out so fast, we didn't even have time to think so right now I think we're in shock."
Utility crews struggled to restore electricity and gas service to homes that survived, and dozens of people lined up to get donated electric heaters, bottled water and blankets at Red Cross shelters. Residents have been urged to use fireplaces and wood stoves to stay warm and keep their pipes at home from freezing.
Noah Sarasin and his twin brother Gavin volunteered at one distribution centre, saying: “We have a house, no heat but we still have a house. I just want to make sure that everyone else has heat on this very cold day.”
Hilary and Patrick Wallace picked up two electric heaters, then ordered two hot chocolate mochas at a nearby cafe.
The Superior couple couldn’t find a hotel and were contemplating hiking two miles back to their home; their neighbourhood was still blocked off to traffic. The family slept in one room on New Year’s Eve.
Both teared up when a man entered the shop and joked aloud that he had lost his coffee mugs — and everything else — in the fire. The man was in good spirits, laughing at the irony of the situation.
“I have a space heater and a house to put it in. I don’t even know what to say to them,” Hilary said, wiping away a tear.
Another resident Judy Givens said: “It’s bittersweet because we have our house, but our friends don’t. And our neighbours don’t.
“We thought 2022 might be better. And then we had Omicron. And now we have this, and it’s not starting out very well.”