At least seven people have been injured in the US State of Colorado after wind-fuelled wildfires broke out near the city of Denver on Thursday morning.
Thousands of residents in two communities, 32 kilometres northwest of Denver were ordered to leave their homes.
The towns of Louisville and Superior are home to some 34,000 people combined and are filled with middle and upper-middle-class neighbourhoods with shopping centres, parks and schools.
While it is rare for fires to break out this late in winter, the National Weather Service says the inferno was sparked by downed power lines and driven by gusts travelling up to 170 kilometres per hour.
Colorado’s Front Range, where most of the state’s population lives, had an extremely dry and mild autumn while the winter season has been mostly dry so far.
Residents evacuated calmly and in orderly fashion, but the winding streets quickly became clogged. It took some cars as long as 45 minutes to advance half a mile.
While the county fire department ousted the first blaze, a second was reported just after 11am. The fire ballooned and spread rapidly; it continued through the night, ravaging at least 6.5 square kilometres of ground.
“This is the kind of fire we can’t fight head-on,” Boulder County Sherriff Joe Pelle said.
“We actually had deputy sheriffs and firefighters in areas that had to pull out because they just got overrun."
While the towering flames had disappeared by first light on Friday, Pelle said it was likely that some 500 homes were destroyed by the flames.
Many Coloradans, driven from their communities, are anxiously waiting to learn what is left of their homes.
The flames engulfed a hotel and shopping center in Superior.
Ninety percent of Boulder County is in a state of severe or extreme drought, the area not having seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer.
“With any snow on the ground, this absolutely would not have happened in the way that it did,” said snow hydrologist Keith Musselman.
Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.