LOUISVILLE, Colo .– Offering hugs and humor, President Joe Biden comforted Colorado residents struggling with the rebuilding of homes and businesses that were destroyed last week by a rare lashed winter fire by the wind that passed through a pair of densely populated suburbs between Denver and Boulder.
A victim was identified on Friday and one person is still missing among the 35,000 or so driven from their homes.
Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived in the Harper Lake neighborhood of Louisville on Friday afternoon to assess the damage, passing the remains of burned houses next to damaged structures still standing. They walked along a street where houses burned down to their concrete foundations, meeting residents and local officials who oversaw the response and recovery operation. The president was also scheduled to deliver remarks.
Before leaving the White House, Biden described the destruction as “horrible to God.”
The fire broke out exceptionally late in December after months of drought with a dry fall and very little snow in winter. Almost 1,100 buildings, mostly houses, were destroyed, causing damage estimated at $ 513 million.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Investigators limited their search for the cause to an area near Boulder where a passer-by captured video of a burning hangar on December 30, when the blaze started. But it could still take authorities weeks to figure out how it started.
Most of the destroyed buildings were houses. But the fire also burned down eight businesses in Louisville and neighboring Superior. Federal, state, and local agencies and nonprofit organizations provide housing assistance, counseling, food, allowances, and other assistance to residents.
The two state senators, two members of Congress from the affected area and FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, whose agency provides federal assistance, were traveling with the president aboard Air Force One to Colorado . In Colorado, he met with Governor Jared Polis, Louisville Mayor Ashley Stolzmann, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle 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 handed out challenge coins bearing the presidential seal while thanking them for their service with a handshake.
Stacy Moore stood in her garden on Friday afternoon, watching the burning destruction of the house she had lived in since the 1990s. She had been drawn to the area because she was supposed to be free from threats of forest fires, floods, or tornadoes that other parts of the state typically see.
“I thought it was perfectly safe,” she said.
“I would love to see the federal government and our municipal governments and our state governments help educate people on how we can use best building practices,” she said. reconstitution.
Authorities on Friday identified a person whose remains were found near the source of the blaze earlier this week as Robert Sharpe, 69, of Boulder. In a statement, his family said Sharpe was a longtime resident who worked in the construction industry for many years.
“The utter devastation of this event shocked and touched so many members of the community,” the family said in a statement thanking authorities for the intensive search for Sharpe. “Our hearts go out to the many other people who have suffered loss.”
Last year, Biden made several trips to study the aftermath of weather events, including ice storms in Houston, wildfires in California, and flooding in New York and New Jersey.
In mid-December, he visited the residents of Dawson Springs, Ky., After a series of tornadoes swept through that state and seven others, killing dozens of people.
After inspecting the scene in Colorado, Biden and the first lady were due to travel to Las Vegas to attend the Saturday funeral of Harry Reid, the former Senate Majority Leader.
Reid died last week after a years-long battle with cancer at the age of 82. He and Biden had served together in the Senate.
Associated Press writer Patty Nieberg in Louisville, Colorado, contributed.