#BlackForestFire Updates, Saturday, 6/15/13

9:50 PM:

According to the El Paso County Sheriff's office, residents of the last home in "red" who chose not to evacuate have been located and are SAFE. None left to account for at this time.

Mountain View Electric has confirmed that the properties allowed to reenter into the mandatory evacuated areas (east of Steppler Road and north Hodgen Road as well as east of Black Forest and north of Walker) did lose power for an extended period of time. As a result, it is recommended that all perishable food items stored in refrigerators and freezers be disposed. Please place spoiled food items in trash bags on your curb by 12 noon Sunday, June 16, for pick up by Dan’s Trash Service. Do not place bags in your regular trash receptacle.
All other properties allowed to reenter into the mandatory evacuated areas did not lose power. If you are concerned with any food items, it can be disposed of by your regular household trash service.

6:30 PM:

Containment is now at 55%. Some mandatory evacuations are downgraded to pre-evacuation status as of 8 PM: The area north of Hodgen Rd. and west of Black Forest Rd., and areas north of Walker Rd. are now preevac. High Forest Ranch will also be downgraded to preevacuation status. Access is from the north; Highway 83, Walker Road, and Meridian Road are still closed.

Rich Harvey, Incident Commander, says today's little bit of sun and little bit of wind helped identify smokes so they could work to put them out. They may release some helicopters, but he says that's a good thing. They don't release assets they need. He expects a full night shift and full crews tomorrow.

Updated assessments of homes: 483 total loss, 17 partial damage, 3451 appear unaffected.

5 PM:

El Paso County has released an updated assessment of homes in the burn zone: 480 total loss; 17 partial damage; 3338 appear unaffected. Please note the information is subject to change as workers are still surveying and assessing properties.

Officials are warning residents of potential scams, and to be careful when giving out personal information. The Better Business Bureau recommends visiting give.org as a starting point to verifying legitimacy. You can also visit the Pikes Peak United Way, or call 211 for information.

3 PM:

The following are downgraded from mandatory to pre-evacuation status:

Howells Rd. (south of Crosslen Lane)
Rainbow Ln.
Crosslen Ln.
Ford Dr.
Lepprechun Ln.
Timber Ln.
Timberlane Ct.
Creekview Rd.
High Meadows Ln.

Noon Press conference:

The big news is Commander Rich Harvey says containment is now at 45%. Assessment shows 473 houses lost, 3,181 unaffected. Full audio of news conference.

Our notes follow:

Sheriff Terry Maketa at microphone:

Didn’t lose any more land and didn’t lose any more structures last night. Thanked firefighters from all over who came to help. Flames are reducing every night. The patrols are reporting fewer hotspots. Knows families are concerned about looting. Says security has not let up at all.

“I could not drive a street last night without seeing one, two or three (police) cars.”

Asks people not to sneak past checkpoints. (He gave more elaborate plea later.)

Knows the frustration people feel when they find incorrect information about status of houses. It’s difficult for the assessment people because houses don’t have numbers on them, and it’s hard to tell from a foundation what used to be there.

Twenty people are doing the house assessments, and they’re doing their very best. Every day they find new locations that were missed before.

“Looks like a nuclear bomb went off” in some of these areas.

One reported looting last night, outside the burn area, east of Meridian.

3,181 homes unaffected

473 total losses

17 partial damage

The fire’s intense heat left very few partial losses.

About the possibility of undiscovered fatalities: Says they have a list of people who didn’t evacuate. They’re comparing it to the houses that were total loss. (Later he gave the numbers: 92 people on the “refused to evacuate” list. Only 2 of those were in houses listed as totally destroyed. Fourteen others are in homes that haven’t been assessed yet. “We are working diligently” to find them and assess their homes.)

There was a new missing person report this morning. (Later in press conference he reported the person was found and is safe.)

12:25 Rich Harvey, Incident Commander:

Same number of firefighters and cops on scene but with a lot less action.

Got 266 new firefighters yesterday, and 100 new ones this morning.

“We have the resources we need.”

A lot of troops working in High Forest area and south of it.

Fox Chase Way still has a lot of heat.

Still fighting fires in the north central portion of the burn.

East perimeter looks good.

The big news: Fire is now 45% contained.

K-Max helicopters have joined the fight. (These are civilian contract aircraft able to carry heavy loads.)

Doesn’t want to take chances, so plan is to check all areas three times before giving the all clear.

Happy for the day’s sunshine because it will reveal where the fire lurks. “We want the fire to come out and fight NOW.”

12:34 Lt. Col Mitch Utterback, Colorado National Guard

Thanks Ft Carson and leaders. The contract helicopters came, so time for the military choppers to go home.

The military engineers who have been cutting bulldozer lines have gone back, too, but they’re on call.

Colorado National Guard still on scene, under direction of Sheriff. They’re manning checkpoints, and CNG firefighters are still fighting.

Nebraska and Wyoming National Guard have sent Blackhawks. CNG also has choppers here.

Incident commander has everything he needs from the military, but he (Utterback) is staying.

Soldiers overseas are able to follow the news, thanks to the media.

Repeating a theme from previous press conferences, he said it’s an honor to serve in the United States and help citizens at home in need.

Glenn Levy of Falcon Fire Dept.:

Thanked people for donating food, water, Gatorade. Said people can be proud of their firefighters. Their work is not done. Serving still, even harder. For people who lost homes in Falcon, he provided his cell phone number: 310-5840. “I carry it 24/7. “

Says Falcon will assign a firefighter to each Falcon family who lost its home, to help with logistics in dealing with matters both financial and emotional.

Department is leaving letters at every home that had damage.

“We want to answer your questions. We want to help in every way we can, knowing that for you, this is a scary and almost surreal time. Together we will get through this.”

Will have neighborhood meetings Falcon to talk, share stories and shed tears.

(He says 80% of the fire was in Black Forest, 20% in Falcon.)

Real heroes of this fire are the men and women who were at “Ground Zero."

They fought a “dragon” out to harm people and property.

Because of them he’s “damn proud” to call himself a firefighter.

Bob Harvey, Black Forest Fire Chief:

Still emotional for all firefighters at small departments, because this is their community.  Some of his firefighters lost property in this fire.

Says he was touched that a family from Trinidad arrived at 1:30am to deliver water and material to support firefighters.

Assures the station is still operating, still responding to fire alarms and still protecting structures in unaffected areas.

Community Center survived, as did log school, so future meetings will be held there.

Urges residents not to take secret paths in.

“We will be there to support you.”

So much support from other fire districts, and the state for resources and advice.

“My worst fears: Aircraft were not available for dispatch. Disheartening.  But it is the picture of the wildfire situation in the West today. “ Fire managers have to develop a strategy without certain assets.

Gives an impassioned plea for action to prevent such fires in future:

“With that being said, it is time for us to put aside politics, put aside bottom-dollar indications about home construction and develop a cooperative code that develops fire-safe, fire-wise homes that we can have in the forest that will survive events like this. And we do have homes that survived that were properly mitigated. We will be taking a very tough tack on this issue for future reconstruction in the Black Forest. There will be no recourse. We will hold to a very stringent code, or they will not get Fire Department approval.”

Can’t thank everyone, but the cooperation between all the fire departments was astounding. And proud to say he’s part of that organization.

Dennis Hisey, chair, El Paso County Board of Commissioners:

Spoke directly to the residents who came to the press conference.

Said county wants to get you back in homes. Said they’ll be issued special i.d. so that only residents and business owners can get in. Warned that houses lost electricity so there will be spoiled foods. County will help you dispose of it. County will bring chem toilets to the area, and hand-washing stations and potable water. “We’ll be there with you all the way.” Said the Disaster Assistance Center is open this weekend and next week. It can help with housing, childcare and just about any other need evacuees have. Said there’s till money remaining from a $250,00 donation from the El Pomar Foundation to distribute to fire victims.

If you want to give, he suggests donations to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation. Says they’re reputable and will get the money to an appropriate place.

One spectator asked about resident passes. Said he’d gone several places and nobody knew how to get them. (Sheriff later said it’s taking a bit to come up with a pass that the “bad guys” couldn’t counterfeit. Said he knew it was hard for people to go downtown to get one and they’d try to avoid that.)

Ron Perry,  U.S.P.S.:

Acknowledges evacuees are looking for checks, medications and other important mail.

Those in 80908 zipcode should go to Briargate Post office , 8585 Criterion Drive. (It’s crowded now, so be patient and safe.)

Elbert County – delivering to all addresses

Monument – “We’re delivering everything but 1300 deliveries.” Inquire at Monument Post office.

Falcon – Delivering everything but 25 locations. “If you think you’re one of those 25, inquire with the Peyton Post Office.” (13055 Bradshaw Road.)

To forward mail to another address, fill out a change-of-address form, available from any post office, or on USPS.com.

A lot of local post offices have mailboxes available. (In response to a spectator, he said he might be able to extend P.O. hours.)

Media questions:

About the two deceased, believed to have died the first night of the fire: Maketa said he’s not sure if the identifications have been confirmed. Next step is to notify families before public release of names.

Pleaded with residents to be patient with restrictions.“Each time you sneak in, you pull a resource off where we could be keeping an eye on the property, so I again will beg for your cooperation on that. We share the same goal. It’s to get you in there, especially those of you who have suffered so much loss already.”

Wants to ensure the area is safe from fire and criminals. (Regarding security “My belief is, the more we open up, the more secure that neighborhood is.”)

A spectator shouted: “You’re doing a good job Sheriff!”

Ended with applause and calls of “thanks sheriff.”

9:43 AM:

According to the El Paso County Sheriff, all areas WEST of Hwy-83 are in “all clear”-- pre-evac lifted west of Hwy-83. (9:43, 6/15). All other notices remain in effect.

8:15 AM:

Effective immediately, all voluntary evacuations in the city of Colorado Springs are lifted.

The tipline for information regarding the possible cause of this fire is as follows: 444-8393 or by email, [email protected]

7:41 AM:

The fire remains 30% contained. There's a community meeting at 10 am at Palmer Ridge High School for those affected by the Black Forest Fire. El Paso County has released a new assessment list as of midnight: 473 homes are considered a total loss, 17 partially damaged, and 3181 appear unaffected. The assessment is ongoing and subject to change. The county's Disaster Assistance Center is open from 8-6. The next press briefing is at noon.

Current Evacuation notices:

El Paso County:

The County Mandatory Evac area is now:
West Boundary is Hwy 83, from Burgess Rd to Walker Rd
East Boundary is Meridian Rd, from Burgess Rd north to the County Line
South Boundary is Burgess Rd, Hwy 83 to Meridian Rd
North Boundary is Walker Rd from Hwy 83 east to Black Forest, north to County Line, east to Meridian

All County Areas west of Hwy 83 are now on Pre Evacuation Status. The Mandatory Evac area of Sun Hills to 83 was down graded to Pre Evacuation status.
All County Areas east of Meridian have been down graded to Pre Evacuation status.
The Mandatory Evac area Hwy 83 east to Black Forest Rd and Walker Rd north to the County has been down graded to Pre Evacuation status.

Colorado Springs:

Voluntary Evacuation

Northern Boundary: North Gate and Old North Gate Road
Southern Boundary: Interquest Parkway
Eastern Boundary: Highway 83
Western Boundary: Voyager Parkway

Elbert County:

All current Evacuation orders remain in place

Map from Elbert County Sheriff's Office

Douglas County:

All pre-evacuation notices for Douglas County have been lifted, but residents are asked to still remain "at a high awareness."