Some asked to hug, others got hugged without asking and one man, wearing the only clothes he had left, just clasped hands with Joe Biden as the US president made an emotional tour ON Friday of a devastating wildfire in the state of Colorado.
Surrounded by apocalyptic damage from the inferno, Biden sought to comfort locals.
The 79-year-old Democrat has long been famous for his ability to show empathy with the suffering and his powers were on full display as he moved along a line of families and firefighters in Louisville, which burned to cinders in the December 30 Marshall Fire.
“We lost everything,” a man told Biden and his wife, First Lady Jill Biden.
“I’m not even properly dressed because this is all I have,” the man said to Biden, gesturing at his long shorts.
“We definitely need help,” said the man’s son, who was also dressed in shorts, despite the snow lying over the blackened ruins of the neighborhood.
Biden held the father’s hand for a long time, and after shaking hands with a dozen firefighters, gave them all ceremonial coins.
One woman looked at Jill Biden and said, “May I?” and then embraced her. Biden put his arms around others.
Two people remain missing and are feared dead after the wind-driven fire, the most destructive in the state’s history, incinerated more than 1,000 homes. Human remains believed to belong to one of the missing were recovered on Wednesday.
The prairie grass fire in Boulder County, on the northern outskirts of the Denver metropolitan area, scorched more than 6,000 acres (24sq kilometres) in about two hours, officials said.
The flames at times devoured football field-size stretches of drought-parched landscape in seconds.
Entire neighbourhoods in the towns of Superior and Louisville were destroyed.
In a statement on Thursday, Boulder County officials said the fires had incurred more than $513m worth of damage, as 1,084 residential structures were destroyed and another 149 were damaged across the area.
Biden’s trip to Boulder County, where he will tour a Louisville neighbourhood and meet families displaced by the blaze, marks his second as president to Colorado and his second focused on wildfires.
Biden had approved an emergency declaration for Colorado on January 1, allowing federal assistance to flow to state and local authorities in the aftermath of the blazes.
A day earlier, the president also spoke to Colorado Governor Jared Polis, promising “that every effort will be made to provide immediate help to people in the impacted communities”, the White House said.
Displaced residents have been returning to their homes to assess the damage.
Rex Hickman, who had evacuated the area with his wife and son, said he was heartbroken to discover that there was nothing left of their home of 23 years.
“There’s a numbness that hits you first. You know, kind of like you go into crisis mode. You think about what you can do, what you can’t do,” he told The Associated Press news agency earlier this week. “The real pain is going to sink in over time.”