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Sheriff says work to find 2 missing people after destructive Colorado wildfire is hard given the heat and debris

<i>Thomas Peipert/AP</i><br/>A destroyed home is covered in snow in Louisville
Thomas Peipert/AP
A destroyed home is covered in snow in Louisville

By Amir Vera and Steve Almasy, CNN

Two people remain missing in Boulder County, Colorado, as authorities work to survey the damage left by a vicious wildfire, the cause of which is under investigation.

Sheriff Joe Pelle said at a briefing that searchers are actively working two scenes looking for the people who are unaccounted for as of Monday afternoon.

“It is very, very difficult work, given the debris, the heat,” he said, adding crews were limited to using small tools.

On Sunday, the sheriff said his teams were looking for a woman from the town of Superior and a man from Marshall.

The Marshall Fire tore through Boulder County on Thursday, leveling subdivisions and charring more than 6,000 acres. The fire has destroyed nearly 1,000 homes, authorities estimate.

Pelle said that Boulder County investigators are being assisted by the US Forest Service in looking for evidence into how the blaze began and authorities are talking to “dozens of people.”

“We haven’t eliminated or honed in on any one specific thing,” he said.

The FBI is also assisting with the search and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is prepared to support with the investigation into the Marshall Fire, spokespersons with the FBI and ATF told CNN.

Pelle said FBI agents are helping interview people when there are a lot of individuals to interview while the ATF is providing certified fire investigators as well as expertise in fire investigations.

Gov. Jared Polis told reporters the investigation will take time.

“What’s most important is getting it right, so whether it takes a week, a month or two months, getting right is most important,” he said.

Investigators will be meticulous, the sheriff said, adding that there might be evidence that will be revealed when the recent snowfall melts away.

There have still been no reported deaths as a result of this fire, officials have said.

A man was arrested Thursday afternoon for threatening firefighters who were working during the time of the wildfire in Boulder County, Louisville Police Chief David Hayes said at a news conference Sunday.

“A gentleman armed with an assault rifle had threatened the firefighters that were working in the area,” Hayes said. “A number of officers responded — both Louisville officers, Boulder sheriff’s deputies and I’m sure others — and we were able to safely take that person into custody.”

The chief noted they recovered “a couple of weapons.”

Hayes was unable to provide information about why the man was threatening the firefighters. He could also not confirm whether the man resided in a home in the area.

Asked whether the man was trying to protect his property, the chief said, “I think (he) was just probably angry and upset like a lot of people are, but that’s not, obviously, not the way to do it.”

The man’s father told CNN on Monday the only reason his son had guns in the car was because everything he owned was in the vehicle.

He said his son was in “shock” at the time and called the arrest “over-policing” during a very stressful time. His son was on his property and was likely “deranged” because his family had just lost everything, including irreplaceable family photographs, the father said.

FEMA provides assistance to fire victims

The Marshall Fire was one of two blazes that started Thursday morning. Fueled by strong winds, its flames sped across drought-parched land, traveling distances equivalent to a football field in just seconds,” Polis said last week

The other fire, known as the Middle Fork Fire, was attacked quickly and “laid down,” Pelle has said.

The areas impacted by the Marshall Fire have since seen about 8 inches of snow, dousing the flames but also temporarily knocking out power. The fire has destroyed nearly 1,000 homes in Boulder County, authorities estimate.

About 100 personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are assigned to assist victims of the Marshall Fire, said FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell.

Criswell, who surveyed fire damage with Polis on Sunday morning before speaking to reporters, said FEMA representatives will be at the disaster assistance center “starting today” to register individuals seeking extra assistance for expenses not covered by homeowner’s insurance.

Criswell told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield after the news conference Sunday that federal teams are working with state and local officials to clear debris and develop a housing strategy for immediate as well as long-term needs.

“Some people are still in shelters run by the state and some are staying with family and friends,” Criswell said. “We’re going to work closely with the state and see what we can do through our non-congregate sheltering program that’s part of the disaster declaration, as well as other tools that we have in our toolbox to look at what the long term options that we have available to meet the specific needs of these communities.”

President Joe Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration last week and a major disaster declaration on Saturday. According to the major disaster declaration announcement, federal funding is now available to affected individuals in Boulder County, which can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs as well as low cost loans to covered uninsured losses.

Power still remains out for about 400 customers in the burn zone area, according to Alice Jackson, president at power company Xcel Energy-Colorado.

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CNN’s Rosa Flores, Sharif Paget, Joe Sutton, Christina Maxouris, Natasha Chen, Dakin Andone and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.

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