News was mixed during the Thursday afternoon press conference for the Black Forest Fire. Officials declared the blaze at 5% containment, but they also announced that two people perished in the fire. KRCC’s Andrea Chalfin reports.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa says the two people who lost their lives had been working to evacuate the area, most likely on Tuesday, the first day of the fire.
"We do have witnesses who spoke to these two people, one at around 4:20, and they said that they could see a glow to the west, they were packing their personal belongings trying to get out, at 5:00 there was another phone conversation. The person that they were speaking with said he could hear popping and cracking in the background and they advised they were leaving right now."
Maketa describes the area where the bodies were found Thursday as heavily wooded with a narrow driveway.
"It’s in a very... what I would consider high temperature burned area where the fire was obviously crowned, and coming through the tops of the trees."
Names have not yet been released.
Despite the tragic news, Maketa called firefighting efforts Thursday encouraging. The Type I Incident Command Team transitioned into place early Thursday morning, led by Rich Harvey. Harvey’s no stranger to the area, as he also led efforts in last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire.
"We are very cognizant of what happened there, what the fuels were, what the fire behavior was, and we bring that forward with us. We get the same kind of weather briefings. Our firefighters are facing similar fuel types, similar energy release components, similar spotting distances. Similar winds. So they’re gonna response with what they’ve learned in their careers and from recent experiences."
Multiple agencies continue to fight the fire and provide additional support, including the Colorado National Guard, and teams from across the state.
The Black Forest Fire is now the most destructive in state history, and has displaced nearly 40,000 people. But Sheriff Terry Maketa says despite the losses, firefighters have been able to save hundreds of homes within the burn area. As KRCC’s Liz Ruskin found, many evacuees are stuck between grief and hope.
Robert and Barbara Schmidt evacuated with their son and two dogs, and they’re desperate for news of their house. They’ve seen a YouTube video showing their shed fully ablaze. On the positive side, it’s just north Edith Wolford Elementary School, which was said to be still standing Wednesday.
"It’s very frustrating. You just want to know: Is it there or is it not there?"
68-year-old Bruce Buksar was sure on Tuesday his house on Wolford Lane was gone. He’d seen TV footage of an inferno right near there. But he got word Wednesday that -somehow - his house was among those still standing.
"I can’t belive how... I can’t believe how lucky I am. Like I said, it’s like a miracle has happened."
At the same time, this is a fire that has been jumping ahead then turning back on itself, so Buksar know there’s still some uncertainty. In that way, he’s like thousands of other evacuees, just a little more hopeful.
Sheriff Terry Maketa says they're working hard to assess the properties within the burn zone, but it's a challenging endeavor, and information is subject to change. For the latest list of home assessments, click here.
Southern Colorado is changing a lot these days. We can help you keep up. Sign up for the KRCC Weekly Digest here and get the stories that matter to Southern Colorado, delivered straight to your inbox.