by Darlene Superville | The Associated Press
Louisville, Colo. — Offering hugs and humor, President Joe Biden consoled Coloradoans with rebuilding homes and businesses that were destroyed last week by a rare wind-blown, winter fire between Denver and Boulder A pair of heavily populated suburbs were burned through.
One victim was identified on Friday and one person was not traced, of whom around 35,000 were forcibly evicted from their homes.
Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived in Louisville’s Harper Lake neighborhood on Friday afternoon to survey the damage, passing the burned-out remains of homes next to damaged structures still standing. They walked along an alleyway where houses burned to their concrete foundations, meeting with residents and local officials who were overseeing the response and recovery operation. The president was also ready to comment.
Before departing the White House, Biden described the destruction as “god-horrible.”
The fires occurred unusually late, in late December, after a dry winter with months of drought and rarely snow. About 1,100 buildings, most of which were homes, were destroyed, causing an estimated $513 million in damage.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Investigators have narrowed their search for the cause to an area near Boulder, where a passerby videotaped a shed burning when the fire broke out on December 30. But it could still take weeks for officials to figure out how it started.
Most of the buildings destroyed were homes. But eight businesses in Louisville and neighboring Superior also caught fire. Federal, state and local agencies and nonprofits offer housing assistance, counseling, food, stipends and other assistance to residents.
Traveling to Colorado with the president on Air Force One were two state senators, two members of Congress from the affected area, and Dean Criswell, administrator of FEMA, whose agency is providing federal aid. In Colorado, he called on Gov. Jared Polis, Louisville Mayor Ashley Stolzman, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pele, and Louisville Fire Protection District Chief John Wilson, in addition to residents and first responders.
Greeting a line of firefighters and EMS personnel one by one, Biden passed out challenge coins bearing the president’s seal as he thanked them for their service with a handshake.
Stacy Moore stood in her backyard Friday afternoon surveying the devastation caused by the fires at the home she had lived in since the 1990s. He was drawn to the region as it was considered free from the dangers of wildfire, floods or tornadoes that are commonly seen in other parts of the state.
“I thought it was completely safe,” she said.
“I want to see the federal government and our city governments and our state governments help educate people about how we can use best construction practices,” she said. He is told that home insurance will “come nowhere” to cover the cost of the reconstruction.
On Friday, officials identified a man whose remains were found earlier this week near the core of the fire as Robert Sharp, 69, of Boulder. In a statement, his family said Sharpe was a longtime resident who had worked in the construction industry for many years.
“The total devastation of this incident has shocked and affected many in the community,” the family said in a statement, thanking officials for their thorough search for Sharp. “Our hearts go out to the many others who have been harmed.”
Last year, Biden made several trips to survey the aftermath of weather events, including snow storms in Houston, wildfires in California, and floods in New York City and New Jersey.
In mid-December, he visited residents of Dawson Springs, Kentucky, after a series of tornadoes ripped through that state and seven others, killing many.
After surveying the scene in Colorado, Biden and the first lady were to fly to Las Vegas to attend the funeral of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Reid died last week at the age of 82 after a long battle with cancer. He and Biden had served together in the Senate.