Smoke from the Black Forest Fire on Wednesday. [Photo: CPR/BMarkus]
Story by CPR's Ben Markus
Several fires are raging across the state, and the most destructive is the Black Forest fire northeast of Colorado Springs. The blaze is now at around 8,500 acres. Officials still say it’s zero-percent contained, and it's expected to grow. The fire has destroyed at least 92 homes and damaged five more. There have been no reports of injuries, but more than 9,500 people have been told to evacuate.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa says the fire exploded to thousands of acres in just a matter of hours on Tuesday.
“The possibilities for this fire to continue to spread are extreme,” Maketa said. “If there’s anything working to our benefit it’s the terrain. There is accessibility, we have a lot of roadways that we’re able to access.”
He says the area is extremely dry and heavily populated.
Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft dropped water and fire retardant on the blaze most of the day Wednesday. Almost 500 firefighters were on the scene, and Maketa said authorities are "throwing everything at this we possibly can.”
Federal fire commanders are taking over the operation from here on.
Mandatory evacuation notices went out to thousands of homes. Carol Glover didn’t wait for the call. When she saw smoke, she and her family packed up and got out of their Black Forest home. She’s staying with a friend who can sympathize.
“Last year for Waldo Canyon,” she said, “he evacuated to my house. This year I’m evacuating to his house."
Glover says she started preparing an evacuation plan and checklist after last year’s destructive Waldo Canyon blaze not far away, so she was ready. But she couldn’t take her horses, and that’s why she went to the Red Cross Shelter at Palmer Ridge High School to see if anyone could help.
“It is hard,” she said. "[The horses] have a way out, they have food, they have water, I can go and check on them. It’s difficult to ... know what’s going to happen to them.”
Other evacuees found a new home at the Wal-Mart off Powers Boulevard, which has become a de facto RV park. Dozens of boxy, white RVs fill the back half of the parking lot. A dark plume of smoke billows in the background.
“It bothers me to see that black, because you know somebody’s - some structure is going up,” said Sharon Rambo. She and her husband Greg left their home after getting the evacuation notice. Rambo says she had expected the worst.
“When it’s this dry,” she said, “especially after what happened last year, people were very nervous up there, we all were."
Her husband Greg is still in shock.
“You feel numb, you feel numb, loss of appetite, just not knowing if there’s a house there or not, so you’re stuck in limbo,” he said.
Back at the command center, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa acknowledged that people were anxious to find out about their homes. He says fire crews are doing assessments as they can, but he also says things can quickly get dangerous because of the shifting winds.
“As our guys are going in to check homes, they’re actually having to abandon those roads because of the direction and travel of the fire and how rapid it is changing,” he said.
He warned residents not to let their guard down if their home doesn’t appear on early damage assessment lists. The changing fire conditions mean it’s almost impossible to predict what neighborhood could next find itself in the path of the Black Forest Fire.