COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – El Paso County residents whose homes have burned in the still-burning Black Forest Fire will be getting their first look at their devastated properties this week.
The “Shoup Road Corridor” where the worst destruction took place last week is still closed, but there are plans in the works to open it up to residents on Tuesday or Wednesday. People whose homes burned will be able to go through the rubble, begin the grieving process and deal with the reality of the fire, Sheriff Terry Maketa said Monday morning. A total of 483 homes have burned in what is the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history.
Several evacuated areas from the fire are being opened up again, but Maketa said the residents of the Shoup area have had to wait for so long to go home in part because of the investigation that is still taking place inside that area into how the fire started. Two people who have not been identified yet died in the fire.
“We don’t know yet if it’s a crime or not, but we’re going to treat it as it is and preserve every element of that scene as we can. To allow people to go in and trample through and walk around compromises our scene,” Maketa said.
Maketa said they are “zeroing in on the point of origin of the fire” and they are bringing in some equipment that will help in the investigation. The sheriff didn’t say what that equipment was.
Containment of the fire is now at 75 percent, and while there are still some hot spots, safety work by fire crews inside the burn area is becoming just as important. That includes taking down scorched trees that might fall on driveways, roads or homes.
“You don’t see smoke up there. You’re not seeing black smoke, you’re not seeing flames. It gives this false sense that it’s over and done. And although we’re closing out the chapter of the hot aggressive fire we’re starting a whole new chapter of recovery and that is a long, tedious process,” Maketa said.
The cost to date of fighting the fire is $5.5 million.
Police are also on the lookout for looters, burn vandals and people committing other crimes in the evacuated areas. There have been a few incidents reported so far.
Dan May, district attorney for El Paso County, said some homeowners who are returning home might see some damage at their houses. If it’s unclear whether the damage is from firefighters who battled the fire around their homes or possibly from a looter, there’s a hotline that has been set up. That number to call is (719) 390-5555.
May said his office will prosecute anyone in violation of the fire ban that’s in place around the burn area. He said that includes fireworks and cigarette butts out the window.
More than 1,000 families have come to the disaster assistance center in Colorado since it was set up last week.
As some families prepare to go home to the Black Forest Fire burn area they are being urged to get tetanus shots. Health experts say there is so much debris and rough edges surrounding damaged homes in that area that they don’t want an outbreak of tetanus on top of everything else.