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Record-Setting Colorado Fires Destroyed More Than 500 Homes

 LOUISVILLE, Colo. — It took only a few hours for the flames to cut an unimaginable path of destruction across the drought-starved neighborhoods between Denver and Boulder.

By Friday morning, as smoke from the most damaging wildfire in state history cleared, more than 500 homes, and possibly as many as 1,000, had been destroyed. Hundreds of people who had hastily fled returned to ruins, everything they owned incinerated in the fast-moving blaze. Entire neighborhoods had been reduced to ashes.

“It felt like the apocalypse,” said Ruthie Werner, a resident of Louisville, Colo., who had gone to shop at a Target store on Thursday but arrived to find the parking lot ablaze.

Despite the astonishing destruction, no deaths were immediately recorded, a figure that Gov. Jared Polis said would be a “New Year’s miracle” if it held.

It turned out that people had just enough time to evacuate, with some grabbing passports and pets, toothbrushes and clothing, as the fast-moving flames, fueled by 110-mile-an-hour winds, leapfrogged highways and strip malls and bore down on their homes.

It “wasn’t a wildfire in the forest; it was a suburban and urban fire,” said Mr. Polis, a Democrat who lives in Boulder County and who described receiving texts and voice mail messages from friends describing what they had lost.

“The Costco we all shop at, the Target we buy our kids’ clothes at — all surrounded and damaged,” he said.

As subdivisions remained blocked off on Friday, the streets empty and hushed as the charred wreckage continued to smolder, residents told of harrowing escapes. In contrast to fires in mountain wilderness, which often burn over the course of weeks, the destruction on Thursday played out in minutes and hours, as fierce wind gusts threw flames across suburban landscapes with virtually no warning.

“We were home, and it was a bright, sunny day, and all of a sudden it wasn’t bright and sunny anymore,” said Laurie Draper, who lost the Louisville house where she had lived with her husband since 1994 and raised two children. “We could smell fire, and then there was smoke coming through the neighborhood.”

Ms. Draper said the wind had been blowing so hard that it was difficult even to open the car doors. They escaped with little more than some Persian rugs, their German shepherd and the clothes they were wearing. On Friday, she lamented that she had not saved items that belonged to her late mother.


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