“It was astounding,” he said. People who had gathered on the hilltop to watch the smoke quickly grew frantic and rushed back to their homes. He stopped at his house to grab dog food, medicine and some essential documents before hitting the road.
Stein, 43, was among tens of thousands of people in the Denver suburbs who were driven from their homes by wildfires Thursday. All 33,000 residents of Superior and nearby Louisville were forced to evacuate Thursday afternoon. Residents in parts of Broomfield and Westminster were also ordered to evacuate.
The evacuees fled the fire zones under plumes of smoke that clouded the sky for miles, not knowing if their houses would make it through the night. Roads and highways in the Denver metro area were jammed with thousands of residents trying to flee.
“It took us almost an hour to get out of our neighbourhood — it was complete gridlock,” Stein said.
A few hours after Joe Miller heard sirens in Superior, he and his wife decided it was time to leave. They grabbed some essential items and battled the winds as they left the house.
“As we were loading the kids into the car, the winds blew her into the door,” he said. He had to chase after his wife’s shoes after the wind swept them off the ground.
Miller, 32, was planning to drive down to New Mexico, where his family was about to go on vacation, he said. But they stopped in Denver after it became clear that this was not just any fire.
“I almost chuckled to myself at the time that we’re being overly safe,” he said. “But as we travelled, we started getting word that people’s houses were falling.”
The Millers took shelter at his uncle’s house, where they spent the evening flipping between news channels — and hoping, he said, that they would not have to watch their house burn on TV.
Thomas Maxwell, 25, said he did not know Thursday if his parents’ house in Louisville was still standing. Maxwell, who lives in California, had been dogsitting for them while they vacationed in Spain. He woke them with a midnight call to say that he had evacuated to a hotel with their two dogs.
“It was crazy how fast it happened,” Maxwell said. “I read about wildfires in California all the time. Now I’m experiencing it. It’s so different.”
He and other evacuees were gathering information any way they could — scrolling Twitter, swapping photos of nearby landmarks with neighbours — as they tried to calculate the fire’s location.
Marcia Van Eden and her husband, John, were also carefully watching news reports from a hotel room to see whether their Superior home had been claimed by the blazes.
Late Thursday, the flames were “starting to head up the hill toward our house,” Van Eden said. “It’s just a waiting game.”
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