Utahns share how their families were affected by the Colorado wildfires

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A wildfire destroyed an Element Hotel in Superior, Colorado. AP News reported the wildfires caused $513 million in damages. (AP News)

The wildfires northwest of Denver on Dec. 30 surged with winds up to 105 mph leaving nearly 1,000 structures destroyed, including homes, businesses and hospitals. About 35,000 residents were forced to evacuate over 6,200 acres in Boulder County, including the family of BYU instrumental music education major Victoria Dixon.

Dixon was sitting at home with her family in Arvada, Colorado, when the power unexpectedly went out, leading them to hear about the massive wildfires happening nearby. While her home was not close enough to the fires to be affected, her cousin’s family was.

Her cousin saw the large flames right by her in-laws’ house while she was running errands in Boulder, Colorado, so she called the in-laws to make sure they were aware. The family went outside to observe the flames, which at the time, were still far enough away they did not think much of it.

However, with dead grass and high winds feeding the flames, that quickly changed. Within an hour the fire had reached their neighborhood and they were forced to evacuate.

“It was a miracle that my cousin saw the fire when grocery shopping and told her family to get out as quickly as they could,” Dixon said.

Her cousin’s family had moved from France, so they needed to gather important documents and other family belongings before leaving their home. They split up, with the mother and children leaving first and the father staying behind to collect what he needed to.

Because of the suddenness of the events, many of their neighbors were unaware, including an older couple whose lives were saved when this family picked them up on their drive away from the flames.

Several semi-trucks crashed in high traffic areas as people evacuated from wildfires in Boulder, Colorado. (Daniela Busse)

Their father did not have time to gather much, as the fire was a block away at this point. He evacuated as well and saved two burn victims on his way. With the nearby hospital having been evacuated and traffic high, he later met with an ambulance to tend to the victims. Together, the family saved at least four people.

“You can replace a chair. You can replace a couch. But it is the stuff you really cannot replace that matters, and that’s what they lost,” Dixon said.

Locations such as recreation centers were set up to house evacuation victims who had no other place to go. Both COVID-19 free and COVID-19 positive locations were available.

“I feel very blessed because my house was not burned. But at the same time, I have family members who did lose their home. It is now my family’s responsibility to help them and be there for them to lean on,” Dixon said. “I need to be grateful for everything that I have and I need to be willing to help and serve others who need it at this time.”

BYU applicant Daniela Busse also lives in Arvada. While she did not have to evacuate, she had friends who did.

Several semi-trucks crashed in high traffic areas as people evacuated from wildfires in Boulder, Colorado. (Daniela Busse)

“I was at the hospital earlier in the day visiting my dad after his surgery and saw how dark the sky was getting,” Busse said. “I checked Google Maps and saw a fire in Boulder, but did not think much of it at the time because it was before all the news reports. I thought it was odd that there was a fire in December, but no snow.”

Later in the day, when her friends were evacuating, they sent pictures of semi-truck crashes during the high traffic points.

“Most people didn’t know what to do or where to go when they were evacuated,” Busse said. “It reminded me how unprepared we sometimes are for the real world. We got snow the day after so that was a blessing.”

Utah State student Joe Pigott lives in Utah, but he has family in Superior, Colorado, who had to evacuate as well.

“They knocked down their fence, drove through it, and drove through some fire to get out. Many of their neighbors’ houses burned,” Pigott said.

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