Officials: Colorado wildfire caused $513 million in damage

Colorado authorities say last week’s wildfire caused $513 million in damage and destroyed 1,084 homes and structures.

It’s the first estimate of economic damage for the Dec. 30 blaze, the most destructive wildfire in state history.

Boulder County released the new totals Thursday after further assessing the suburban area located between Denver and Boulder.

Authorities previously estimated that at least 991 homes and other buildings were destroyed. Two people are missing, though officials have found partial human remains at one location.

Investigators also are trying to determine what caused the wind-whipped wildfire that charred entire neighborhoods and forced thousands to flee.

The inferno erupted following months of drought and fed on bone-dry grassland surrounding fast-growing development in the area near the Rocky Mountain foothills.

Experts say similar events will become more common as climate change warms the planet and suburbs grow in fire-prone areas. Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and it hadn’t seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer.

The fire, which spanned 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers), ranks as the most destructive in state history in terms of homes and other structures destroyed and damaged. A 2013 fire outside Colorado Springs destroyed 489 homes and killed two people.

In 2020, Colorado also suffered its three largest wildfires in recorded history as a prolonged drought holds its grip on the Western U.S.

The new totals include destroyed barns, sheds and other outbuildings, but the vast majority were residences, Boulder County officials said. The worst damage was in and around Louisville and Superior, neighboring towns about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver with a combined population of 34,000.

Federal and state investigators have interviewed dozens of people as they work to determine what started the fire on a day when winds surpassed 100 mph (160 mph). Their efforts are focused on an area near Boulder where a passer-by captured video of a burning shed on the day the fire began.