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Biden surveys damage caused by rare Colorado wildfire

The Marshall Fire tore through neighborhoods just before the New Year, destroying roughly 1,000 homes and other buildings in the suburbs between Denver and Boulder.

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — President Joe Biden on Friday surveyed damage and spoke with families who were affected by a rare winter wildfire in the Denver suburbs that destroyed more than 1,000 homes and other buildings.

Fueled by heavy winds, the Marshall Fire barreled through Boulder County on the last two days of 2021, ripping through towns including Louisville and Superior, both about 20 miles northwest of Denver. State officials have said the blaze, which occurred unusually late in the year following an extraordinarily dry and warm fall, was one of the most destructive in Colorado's history.

"I can't imagine what it's like to be here in this neighborhood and see winds whipping up to 100 miles an hour and see flames approaching," Biden said, speaking with families gathered at a community center who had been impacted by the wildfire. "Fire, I think, is the most frightening of all dilemmas."

After first arriving in Denver, the president and first lady joined Gov. Jared Polis, Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, along with Rep. Joe Neguse and local officials to tour damage in a Louisville neighborhood.

The Bidens walked along a street where homes had been burned to the ground, speaking with residents who were standing in front of the charred remains of their homes, now covered in snow.

Biden declared the fire a major disaster last week, opening up federal funding and assistance to those impacted. Local officials have warned that rebuilding could take years and come at a high cost, especially with supply chain crunches, labor shortages and a tight housing market.

The fire caused more than $500 million in damages, officials said.

"We're gonna make sure that everything you need occurs, including clearing all the debris and putting people in a position to be able to rebuild," Biden said during Friday's visit.

Most people were able to escape the fire. Out of roughly 35,000 people who were evacuated from their homes, two people remain unaccounted for. The missing people are presumed dead.

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that investigators found partial human remains in an area near where they suspect the blaze could have originated. The source of the fire is still unknown, but Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle has said that an investigation is underway.

The blaze hit during one of the warmest Decembers ever recorded in Denver and during "record dryness" for the region, federal forecasters said.

Wildfires in Colorado typically occur in the state's more mountainous and rural regions. The Marshall Fire, however, was unique in that it blazed through drought-stricken suburban neighborhoods between Denver and Boulder, regions of the state that are not considered vulnerable to wildfires.

Experts have said that climate change helped fuel the rare wildfire. The ground, usually moist from snow at this time of year, was dry and flammable, as a result of warm temperatures and a lack of precipitation in recent months.

Speaking at the community center, Biden acknowledged the impact that climate change had on the fire and said that "we can't ignore the reality that these fires are being supercharged — being supercharged by changing the weather."

Some climate protesters waved "Code Red" banners at the president's motorcade as Biden approached the Louisville area.

The Colorado visit was followed by a flight to Las Vegas, where Biden will attend the funeral of former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Saturday.