BOULDER, Colo. – It was apocalyptic in many ways.
A.J. Lauer and her family quickly packed up their belongings and fled their Superior, Colorado, home to get away from the looming fire danger.
Nearly 600 homes were destroyed, and tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate after several grass fires exploded in size near Boulder on Thursday and ripped through entire communities amid wind gusts of 75 mph or more.
"It was very, very scary. Apocalyptic is exactly the right word for it," Lauer said. "We were not expecting this at all."
Lauer was hiking and running errands in Boulder when the fire started.
"When I drove back, and as soon as I got on the highway, it was clear there was a fire," Lauer said. "Video doesn’t capture how creepy it was. You can’t really capture the full depth of the variety of scary colors that were happening in front of me."
Lauer and her family evacuated to a friend’s house just southwest of their home, which she hoped survived the fire. The town of Superior remains in evacuation status as of Friday morning. No one is being allowed into the town. Residents are instructed to stay away until further instructions are given by the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.
"When we left, it wasn’t in the plume of smoke, but I don’t know if that’s changed at all since we left," said Lauer, who has lived in Boulder for about 10 years.
Lauer can recall some fires in years past in the mountains outside of Boulder, but not in the open space. Boulder County officials believe the fires were started by downed power lines and blown transformers knocked out by high winds.
"You definitely get pushed around by them alright. You can feel the wind catch your feet. They cut your hair," Lauer said.
As her family was driving out of town, Lauer said their vehicle was shifting back and forth rapidly.
"And this is our second wind event in the last couple of weeks. We had another one where we had similar winds about a week ago, so it was unexpected to see it again so soon. And it definitely did aid in the spread of the fire," Lauer said.
Dry conditions in eastern Colorado with dew points in the single digits and freezing temperatures aided the flames’ rapid spread.
There has been a relative snow drought throughout November and December in the state.
"Usually, by this time in the fall, we have had at least a couple of heavy snow dumps," Lauer said. "And I think the most we’ve had in our house, so far, has been like two inches."
The Boulder area is expecting over a foot of snow starting Thursday night and lasting into Saturday.
"We’re hopeful that that will help things out if things are still burning tomorrow. But yeah, it’s been extremely, extremely dry this fall in winter," Lauer said.
Boulder County has started a fund to help the community recover after the fire. Donations can be made online at this link.