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By Jeff Mason

LOUISVILLE, Colo. (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday visited a Denver-area community reduced to rubble last week by a rare winter wildfire, offering hugs and condolences to a handful of the thousands of residents whose homes were destroyed.

Two people were missing and feared dead after the wind-driven Marshall Fire incinerated more than 1,000 dwellings on Dec. 30-31, making it the most destructive Colorado blaze on record in terms of property losses. 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 over 6,000 acres and laid waste to parts of two towns - Louisville and Superior - as flames at times devoured football field-size stretches of drought-parched landscape in seconds.

Biden's trip to Boulder County marked his second as president to Colorado and his second focused on wildfires.

Under bright sunny skies, the president and first lady Jill Biden walked through a flame-ravaged Louisville neighborhood where blackened rubble and scorched tree trunks poked through a blanket of snow. They chatted briefly with emergency workers and families displaced by the blaze.

The president, pausing to embrace some residents and place a hand on the shoulders of others, was joined on the tour by Colorado Governor Jared Polis and at least three members of the state's congressional delegation.

"We lost everything," one man was overheard telling the president.

Biden has declared the scene of the latest blaze on the eastern fringe of the Rocky Mountains a national disaster, freeing up federal funds to assist residents and businesses in recovery efforts.

The normal wildfire season in Colorado does not typically extend into the winter thanks to snow cover and bracing cold. But climate change and rising global temperatures are leaving vegetation in parts of the western United States drier and more incendiary.

Insured losses from the fire are expected to run about $1 billion, according to catastrophe modeling firm Karen Clark & Company.

Local authorities put the value of residential property damage alone at more than $500 million.

The president's primary legislative initiative, the Build Back Better Act, would funnel billions of dollars to increased forest management, firefighting and efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

The bill, opposed by Republicans, passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in November. It must still pass the Senate, where it has yet to secure the needed support of all of Biden's fellow Democrats.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Denver; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Keith Coffman in Denver; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

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