Biden surveys Colorado wildfire damage, comforts victims

LOUISVILLE, Colo. Offering hugs and humor, President Joe Biden comforted Colorado residents struggling to rebuild homes and businesses destroyed last week by a winter blaze. It’s rare for winds to blow through a pair of densely populated suburbs between Denver and Boulder.

One victim was identified Friday and one remains unidentified among about 35,000 people who were forcibly removed from their homes.

Biden, and his wife, Jill, arrived in the Harper Lake neighborhood of Louisville on Friday afternoon to survey the damage, passing charred remnants of homes alongside damaged structures that remained intact. They walked along a street where houses had burned to their concrete foundations, meeting with residents and local officials, who were overseeing the response and recovery.

Speaking at an entertainment center in Louisville, Biden praised the “incredible courage” of those who lost their homes in the fire and pledged the full federal government support to help rebuild.

“You’re not just helping each other, we’re here with you, we’re not going far,” Biden said. “I intend to do whatever is necessary as long as I can support you.”

The fires broke out irregularly in late December after months of drought with dry autumns and mostly snow-free winters. Nearly 1,100 buildings, most of them homes, were destroyed, causing an estimated $513 million in damage.

Biden encouraged residents to “stick together,” adding, “You’ll get through this and you’ll be stronger for it.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Investigators narrowed their search to an area near Boulder, where a passerby captured video of a burning warehouse on December 30, when the fire started. But it could still take the authorities weeks to figure out how it started.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be here in this neighborhood and see winds blowing up to 100 mph and see the flames approaching,” Biden said.

Most of the buildings destroyed were homes. But the fire also consumed eight businesses in Louisville and surrounding Superior neighborhoods. Federal, state, and local agencies and nonprofit organizations have been providing housing assistance, counseling, food, grants, and other assistance to residents.

Judy Delaware, who met Biden in front of her former home, said the president was very kind and a good listener and that “he actually looks very different from when he gives his speeches.” .

“He really spoke from his heart and he had some really great answers for us, about what we need to do in the next steps,” she added. “He was very sincere and asked about our family.”

Delaware said she has one last photo of her home, taken the night before the fire at her daughter’s engagement party. “It was the last photo taken indoors.”

She added: “We know how soon a new disaster can strike. “We just don’t want them to lose track of what happened here,”

Traveling with the president on Air Force One to Colorado were two state senators, two members of Congress from the affected area, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell, who is providing federal support. In Colorado, he met Governor Jared Polis, Louisville Mayor Ashley Stolzmann, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle and Louisville Fire County Sheriff John Wilson, in addition to residents and first responders.

Speaking after her husband, Jill Biden said she could say “what a warm, strong community you are” and offer condolences to the families who lost their pets in the fire.

She said that she and the president are also “animal people”.

Greeting each firefighter and EMS officer, Biden handed out a presidential challenge coin as he shook hands to thank them for their service.

At the end of the tour, Jill Biden hugged a man who told her, “We’ve lost everything.” The president, who was speaking to another family, then joined in and offered a hug of his own.

“I don’t even dress properly because this is all I have,” the man told the president, pointing to his shorts. “We definitely need help,” the man’s son told Biden.

static wildfire, flood, or tornado threat that other parts of the state often see.

“I think it’s completely safe,” she said.

“I would love to see our federal government and our city government and our state government help educate people about how we can use best construction practices,” she said shortly before when Biden arrives. cover rebuilding costs.

On Friday, authorities identified a person whose remains were found near the source of the fire earlier this week as Robert Sharpe, 69, of Boulder. In a statement, his family said Sharpe is a longtime resident, having worked in the construction industry for many years.

“The utter devastation of this event has shocked and affected so many in the community,” the family said in a statement thanking authorities for searching Sharpe aggressively.

Last year, Biden made several trips to survey the aftermath of weather phenomena, including ice storms in Houston, wildfires in California and flooding in New York City and New Jersey.

In mid-December, he visited resident of Dawson Springs, Kentucky, after a series of tornadoes tore through that state and seven others, killing scores of people.

On Friday, Mr. Biden said extreme events underscore the need for the US to “gain courage” to tackle climate change.

“We cannot ignore the fact that these fires are being increased” by climate change, he said. “The situation is a flashing red code for our country.”

Crowds of people stood outside the entertainment center as Biden spoke inside, and cheered as he left the area to head back to the airport.

After surveying the scene in Colorado, Biden and the first lady traveled to Las Vegas for Saturday’s funeral for Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader who died last week.

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/biden-survey-colorado-wildfire-damage-comfort-victims-82137712 Biden surveys Colorado wildfire damage, comforts victims

Emma Bowman

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