SUPERIOR, Colo. (AP) — Hundreds of Colorado residents who expected to ring in 2022 at home are instead starting the new year trying to save what’s left after a wind-whipped wildfire ravaged the suburbs of Denver.

Families forced to flee the flames with little warning returned to their neighborhoods on Friday to find a patchwork of devastation. On certain blocks, dwellings reduced to smoking ruins rub shoulders with those practically spared by the fires.

“For 35 years I walked through my front door, I saw beautiful homes,” Eric House said. “Now when I go out, my house is standing. I walk out and this is what I see.

At least seven people were injured, but remarkably there were no reports of deaths or missing in the wildfire that broke out Thursday in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring towns about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.

More than 500 homes were feared to have been destroyed and homeowners now face the difficult task of rebuilding amid a global shortage of supplies caused by the two-year pandemic.

“In the current state of the economy – how long will it take to rebuild all these houses?” asked Brian O’Neill, owner of a house in Louisville that burned down.

Cathy Glaab discovered that her house in Superior had been turned into a pile of charred, twisted debris. It was one of seven consecutive houses that were destroyed.

“The mailbox is standing,” Glaab said, trying to smile through tears. She added sadly, “So many memories.”

Despite the devastation, she said they plan to rebuild the home she and her husband have had since 1998. They love that the land backs onto natural space and they have views of the mountains of the back.

Rick Dixon feared there was nothing to return after watching firefighters attempt to save his burning home on the news. On Friday, Dixon, his wife and son found it mostly gutted with a gaping hole in the roof but still standing.

“We thought we had lost everything,” he said, as he held his mother-in-law’s china in padded containers. They also recovered sculptures that had belonged to Dixon’s father and piles of clothes still on hangers.

As flames swept through drought-stricken neighborhoods at alarming speed, propelled by guests at up to 105 mph (169 km/h), tens of thousands of people were ordered to flee.

John Peer finds a few plates as he looks through the rubble of his fire-damaged home after the Marshall Wildfire in Louisville, Colorado on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021.

The cause of the fire was under investigation. Emergency authorities said utility officials did not find any downed power lines around where the fire started.

With some roads still closed on Friday, people went home to get clothes or medicine, turn off the water to prevent pipes from freezing or see if they still had a home. They left carrying backpacks and pulling suitcases or carts down the sidewalk.

David Marks stood on a hill overlooking Superior with others, using a pair of binoculars and a long-range camera lens to see if his house and those of his neighbors were still there, but he couldn’t tell with certainty if his place was OK. He said at least three friends lost their homes.

From the hill, he had watched the neighborhood burn.

“By the time I got here, the houses were completely swallowed up,” he said. “I mean, it happened so fast. I’ve never seen anything like it. … Just house after house, fences, just stuff flying through the air, just bursting into flames.

By first light on Friday, the towering flames that had lit up the night sky had died down and the winds had died down. Light snow soon began to fall and the blaze, which has burned at least 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers), was no longer considered an immediate threat.

“We could have our own New Year’s miracle on our hands if he confirms there was no loss of life,” Gov. Jared Polis said, noting that many people only had minutes to evacuate.

President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the region on Friday, ordering that federal aid be made available to those affected.

The wildfire broke out unusually late in the year, following an extremely dry autumn and amid a winter that was almost snowless so far.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said more than 500 homes were likely destroyed. He and the governor said up to 1,000 homes may have been lost, although that won’t be known until crews can assess the damage.

“It’s amazing when you look at the devastation that we don’t have a list of 100 missing people,” the sheriff said.

The sheriff said some communities were reduced to mere “steaming holes in the ground”. He urged residents to wait for the green light to return due to the danger of fire and downed power lines.

Superior and Louisville are filled with middle- and upper-class subdivisions with shopping malls, parks, and schools. The area is between Denver and Boulder, home to the University of Colorado.

Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and it hasn’t seen significant rainfall since mid-summer. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before having a small storm on Dec. 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.

Bruce Janda faced the loss of his 25-year-old Louisville home in person on Friday.

“We knew the house was destroyed, but I felt the need to see it, to see what the rest of the neighborhood looked like,” he said. “We are a very tight-knit community on this street. We all know each other and we all love each other. It’s hard to see this happening to all of us.

Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert in Louisville, Colorado, and Thalia Beaty in New York contributed to this report. Nieberg is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative body. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to this Salt Lake City story.

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