COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – Two people were found dead in the Black Forest Fire on Thursday. It was only five percent contained.
The Black Forest Fire has destroyed 379 homes, making it the most destructive fire in Colorado history. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. They are narrowly focused on one spot of origin.
Officials expanded the evacuation area Thursday afternoon into parts of northern Colorado Springs.
The Black Forest Fire had consumed 15,700 acres as announced during a Thursday 5 p.m. news conference. Some 38,000 people have been evacuated or affected by the evacuations. That included 13,000 homes.
The fire had burned 24 to 25 square miles. More than 750 firefighters were fighting the massive wildfire along with air tankers dropping slurry and Chinook helicopters making water drops.
The coroner is investigating the deaths of the two people found Thursday afternoon and working on identification of the deceased. The bodies were found inside a car in the garage in the burn area.
The El Paso County Sheriff said it appears by all indications they were making plans to leave.
“The area is heavily wooded with a narrow driveway in with an “L” off of it,” said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. “It’s in a high-temperature burn area where the fire had obviously crowned and coming through the tops of the trees.”
The number of homes destroyed by the voracious wildfire, driven in all directions by shifting winds, was likely to climb as the most destructive blaze in Colorado history burned for a third day through miles of tinder-dry woods.
Homeowners forced from their property watched as firefighters worked to get the upper hand on the fire.
“We saw a big flume of smoke and came to see where it was to make sure our house was safe,” said evacuated resident Jean Harano.
“I am in shock, it seems surreal like I’m living this nightmare,” said Deb Harano. “I was trying to take a look at my house here. I believe that it is still standing. That was my first confirmation.”
The destruction surpassed last June’s Waldo Canyon fire, which burned 347 homes, killed two people and caused $353 million in insurance claims just 15 miles to the southwest. The heavy losses were blamed in part on explosive population growth in areas with historically high fire risk.
“I never in my wildest dreams imagined we’d be dealing a year later with a very similar circumstance,” said Maketa, who drew audible gasps as he announced the number of homes lost to the blaze in Black Forest.
In addition to the 360 homes destroyed, 14 more were partially damaged.
On Thursday afternoon CBS4’s Stan Bush said he saw two homes in the burn area going up in flames.
“We have a large area — when you are thinking about 15,000 acres — where you can drive through one hour and things look pretty well calmed down. Then we get a gust of wind and the next thing you know, we have a ranging flame. We’re seeing that all over,” Maketa said.
Hot, gusty winds fanned the 24-square-mile wildfire, sending it into new areas and back into places that had previously been spared. Even investigators sent in to determine the cause of the fire were pulled out for safety reasons.
The evacuation area was expanded Thursday afternoon.
It now includes Colorado Springs to the south and County Line to the north, and it’s now west of Highway 83 approaching Interstate 25. It’s Voyager Parkway in the city and Sunhills Drive and Granby road in the county, all the way north to County Line Road and south to Burgess and Flying Horse Club Drive. It remains at Eastonville on the east.
The neighborhood of Woodmoor and Monument west of Highway 83 are not included in the mandatory evacuation.
In response to the additional evacuations ordered in the Black Forest Fire, the American Red Cross opened a shelter at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Recreation Center located at 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs.
The American Red Cross said 818 evacuees slept in the two shelters they have set up near the fire on Wednesday night. That included 700 Boy Scouts who were evacuated from their camp. The shelters that are set up are:
– Monument: Palmer Ridge High School, 19255 Monument Hill Rd.
– Kiowa: Elbert County Fairgrounds, 95 Ute Ave.
– Colorado Springs: University of Colorado Colorado Springs Rec. Center, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway.
El Paso County has opened a disaster assistance center in Colorado Springs for people who are affected by the fire. (Full Story)
Highway 83 has been closed from Powers Blvd. to Walker Road in the Colorado Springs-Black Forest area.
The military is providing 10 aircraft, more than 40 firefighters and multiple fire trucks and bulldozers to help civilian agencies fight the Black Forest wildfire.
Officials said Thursday the equipment includes seven helicopters and two C-130 cargo planes equipped to drop water and fire-retardant slurry. Another helicopter is providing aerial coordination.
The military also dispatched more than seven fire trucks, 43 firefighters and four bulldozers.
The National Guard sent 120 Guard members and 24 vehicles to provide security at roadblocks.
The assistance comes from Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Buckley Air Force Base, the 302nd Airlift Wing and the Colorado National Guard.
Developers describe Black Forest as the largest contiguous stretch of ponderosa pine in the United States — a thick, wide carpet of vegetation rolling down from the Rampart Range that thins out to the high grasslands of Colorado’s eastern plains. Once home to rural towns and summer cabins, it is now dotted with million-dollar homes and gated communities — the result of the state’s population boom over the past two decades.
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