Scores of people rushed to evacuation sites Thursday night, fleeing fast-moving fires in Boulder County, Superior and Louisville.
At the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, a Green Day song played softly on the speaker system while a handful of evacuees sat in the seats around the arena’s lower bowl on Thursday night.
The music venue-turned-evacuation center had welcomed about 30 people as of 5 p.m., Detective Aaron Coleman of the Broomfield Police Department said. More trickled in while some sat in their cars in the parking lot.
Superior resident Patrick Kilbride, 72, was among the people gathered around the arena floor. He was still wearing his green vest from McGuckin Hardware in Boulder where he works. He lost everything but the clothes on his back and his car in the fire, he said.
Kilbride was on the clock when he heard homes in Superior were being threatened.
It took him three hours to get to his house. He parked his car and covered the last stretch on foot, hiding behind a stone pillar for close to an hour at one point to avoid getting blown over by the intense wind, he said.
“It’s ashes,” he said of his home for the last 30 years. “It’s not a house. If you need a fireplace chimney, that’s all that’s left.”
Roscoe, Kilbride’a 16-year-old dog, and Dusty, his 20-year-old cat, both died in the fire, he said.
On his way to the evacuation center, Kilbride stopped at a Walmart and bought socks, underwear and a phone charger. He went into the bathroom to wash the soot off his face. His daughter was driving up from New Mexico to be with him, he said. He expects to spend a lot of time on the phone with insurance companies over the next few weeks.
“It’s just a strange feeling to go from having everything to make your life comfortable to having nothing,” he said.
Evacuation centers have been set up at the 1stBank Center at 11450 Broomfield Lane, YMCA of Northern Colorado at 2800 Dagny Way in Lafayette, and the Longmont Senior Center, 910 Longs Peak Avenue.
The YMCA in Lafayette
Early in the evening, people continued to arrive at the YMCA in Lafayette, one of the evacuation centers.
Outside, the wildfire smoke to the south was dense. Inside, families, couples and single people sat on the floor and on chairs in the lobby where a lighted Christmas tree stood.
Jeff Oliver, a YMCA employee, said local businesses donated pizza, sandwiches and water for the evacuees.
Nearby, Pam Allen’s cellphone rang. It was her sister in North Carolina calling to check on her. The Lafayette woman assured her sister she was all right.
Allen, with her cat, Allie, in a carrier next to her feet, was sitting at a table in the gym.
“My next-door neighbor who looks after me said ‘Grab some things and go,’” said Allen, who is on oxygen.
Allen gathered medicine for herself and her cat and food and a bowl for the cat. And she grabbed a blanket on the way.
“I have enough for the night,” Allen said.
“Praying.” That was Alice Santman’s response when asked how she and her daughter, Holly Santman, were doing.
The Santmans live in Superior, hard-hit by wildfire burning along the Front Range. They left their neighborhood around 2:30, bought some food, hung out with their dogs in a park in Westminster, thinking the winds would die down and they could return home.
They eventually went to the Lafayette YMCA. They know homes burned in a subdivision north of theirs. They don’t know about their neighborhood.
“We were watching the news and it felt like what we would watch when fires happen in Southern California,” Alice Santman said. “And you’re like ‘Why would they live there?’ Now, here it is.”
“This is brand new to us.”
By 6:45 pm, about 75 evacuees had come to the 1stBank Center, officials said. One man stood by the check-in station drinking a bottle of water. His face, hair and clothes were covered in ash.
The building was not expected to host evacuees overnight, Broomfield police Det. Jennifer King-Sullivan said.
“I don’t think we have the showering ability and all that,” she said. She wasn’t sure where people might be sent next. Pizza was en route to feed the evacuees and volunteers in the meantime.
Karen Jolowsky, 61, sat near her three grandchildren as they filled in pages in coloring books by the arena floor.
“Am I going to have a home to go back to?” the grandmother said of the thoughts going through her head Thursday.
Jolowsky and her husband, Bob, live in an apartment in Superior. Their son, daughter-in-law and the grandkids are visiting for the holidays and were hanging out at their hotel nearby when Jolowsky said she smelled smoke in the air and turned on her TV.
At first, it looked like the fire was headed away from their building but then the winds turned southward and they knew it was time to go. At about 4 p.m. they loaded their Australian shepherd Harley in the car and the whole family headed to the 1stBank Center.
“This is brand new to us,” Jowolsky said of the fire. “We just moved here two years ago. Our hearts go out to those that lost their homes. We haven’t lost ours yet.”
State Rep. Tracey Bernett was among the many people who took needed supplies to the Lafayette YMCA Thursday night to help people who sought shelter there after being forced from their homes by the wildfire. The Louisville Democrat said she had to evacuate her home.
“This is absolutely devastating,” Bernett said. “I know these neighborhoods.”
Bernett said there will be more catastrophes unless something is done
about climate change.
“This is the result of the climate crisis. We are it,” Bernett said.
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