A Colorado official says nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed, hundreds more were damaged, and that three people are missing after a wildfire charred numerous neighbourhoods in a suburban area at the base of the Rocky Mountains northwest of Denver.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle also said Saturday that investigators are still trying to find the cause of the blaze that erupted Thursday. Officials had previously estimated that at least 500 homes — and possibly 1,000 — were destroyed. They also announced earlier Saturday that two people were missing.
The wind-whipped wildfire blackened entire neighbourhoods in the area between Denver and Boulder.
Authorities had said earlier no one was missing in the area hit by Thursday's blaze, but Boulder County spokesperson Jennifer Churchill said Saturday that was due to confusion inherent when agencies are scrambling to manage an emergency.
Pelle said officials were organizing cadaver teams to search for the missing in the Superior area and in unincorporated Boulder County. The task is complicated by debris from destroyed structures, covered by 20 centimetres of snow dumped by a storm overnight, he said.
At least 991 homes were destroyed, Pelli said: 553 in Louisville, 332 in Superior and 106 in unincorporated parts of the county. He cautioned that the tally is not final.
The cause of the blaze was under investigation. Pelle said utility officials found no downed power lines around where the fire broke out. He said authorities were pursuing a number of tips and had executed a search warrant at "one particular location." He declined to give details.
The news came as an overnight dumping of snow and frigid temperatures on Saturday compounded the misery of hundreds of Colorado residents who started off the new year trying to salvage what remains of their homes.
A thick layer of snow and temperatures in the single digits cast an eerie scene amid the still-smouldering remains of homes destroyed in Thursday's wildfire, which raced through the suburban area that lies between Denver and Boulder. Despite the shocking change in weather, the smell of smoke still permeated empty streets blocked off by National Guard troops in Humvees.
For the thousands of residents whose homes survived the conflagration, Red Cross shelter volunteers distributed electric space heaters as utility crews struggled to restore natural gas and electricity.
At least seven people were injured in the wildfire that erupted in and around Louisville and Superior, neighbouring towns about 30 kilometres northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.
The blaze, which burned at least 24 square kilometres, was no longer considered an immediate threat.
Families forced to flee the flames with little warning began returning to their neighbourhoods on Friday to find a patchwork of devastation. On some blocks, homes reduced to smoking ruins stood next to those practically unscathed by the blaze.
"For 35 years I walked out my front door, I saw beautiful homes," Eric House said. "Now when I walk out, my home's standing. I walk out my front door and this is what I see."