DENVER, Dec 30 (Reuters) – At least six people were injured in Colorado on Thursday as wind-driven wildfires prompted evacuation orders for more than 30,000 residents in two towns just east of the Rockies near Denver, authorities said.
The swiftly spreading prairie grass fires were ignited by sparks from power lines and transformers toppled by high winds on Colorado’s drought-parched Front Range, according to sheriff’s officials in Boulder County.
Evacuation orders were first issued for all residents in the town of Superior, Colorado, with a population of about 13,000, and a short time later for the adjacent municipality of Louisville, home to more than 18,000 residents, the Boulder County emergency management office said on Twitter.
Separately, the National Weather Service office in Boulder tweeted: “All Superior under an Evacuation ORDER. LEAVE NOW!”
Among the evacuees were a number of patients from Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville who were deemed especially vulnerable to smoke-inhalation, Kevin Massey, a spokesperson for healthcare network Centura Health, told Reuters.
“We are transferring some ICU and neonatal patients as it’s safe to do so,” he said.
Six people were treated for injuries from the wildfires at the UCHealth hospital in the neighboring city of Broomfield, spokesperson Kelli Christensen said. But she declined to specify the nature of the injuries or the patients’ conditions.
The extent of property losses was not immediately known, but KMGH-TV, the local ABC News affiliate, aired footage of at least one home engulfed in flames near Louisville.
A towering plume of smoke from the wildfires was visible in Denver, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the south.
Wind gusts of up to 110 miles (177 km) per hour were reported in Boulder, according to the National Weather Service, which said fast-moving fires were creating a “life-threatening situation” in the Superior and Louisville areas.
Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency allowing use of disaster funding to support emergency response efforts in Boulder County and to allow mobilization of the Colorado National Guard and other state resources as needed.
The fires on the outskirts of the Denver metropolitan area, left bone dry from an extreme drought gripping eastern Colorado, follow several days of heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains to the west. However, forecasts call for snow to hit Denver and eastern Colorado starting on Friday.