Watch now: Wind-whipped wildfires displace tens of thousands in Colorado

At least 500 homes were likely destroyed and there were no known deaths in a wind-fueled wildfire outside Denver, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Friday.

Tens of thousands of Coloradans were driven from their neighborhoods by wind-whipped wildfires. They were anxiously waiting to learn what’s left standing of their lives after the flames burned homes, a hotel and a shopping center.

Pelle described one of the communities lost to the fire as “just smoking holes in the ground.” He said there have been no reports of missing people so far.

“It’s unbelievable when you look at the devastation that we don’t have a list of 100 missing persons,” Pelle said.

The fires erupted Thursday outside Denver, following an extremely dry fall and a winter so far nearly devoid of snow. The fire burned 9.4 square miles (24.3 square kilometers), Pelle said. There are still flames but officials are not expecting any growth outside the fire area, he added.

By first light Friday, the towering flames that had lit up the night sky were gone, leaving smoldering homes and charred trees and fields. The winds had died down, and light snow soon began falling, raising hopes it could snuff out hot spots.

The neighboring towns of Louisville and Superior, situated about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Denver and home to a combined 34,000 people, were ordered evacuated ahead of the fires, which cast a smoky, orange haze over the landscape.

Scientists say climate change is making weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Colorado’s Front Range, where most of the state’s population lives, had an extremely dry and mild fall, and winter has been mostly dry so far. Denver set a record for consecutive days without snow before it got a small storm on Dec. 10, its last snowfall before the wildfires broke out.

Ninety percent of Boulder County is in severe or extreme drought, and it hasn’t seen substantial rainfall since mid-summer.