5:29am

Fri June 14, 2013
Wildfires

Friday Updates For The Black Forest Fire, Other Colorado Fires

The Black Forest Fire earned another distinction Thursday as fire officials announced they had discovered the remains of two persons in the fire zone. The other Colorado fires are beginning to wind down.

Editor's Note: On Tuesday, June 11, 2013 three new wildfires started, and another previously burning wildfire flared up. This post collects and archives all of our updates from Friday. As of the evening briefing Friday, major containment was announced for the Black Forest Fire. We will continue to monitor the fire, but will only be updating should conditions warrant.

Here’s what we know about the fires right now:

  • Black Forest Fire: 15,702 acres, 30 percent containment (updated 5:37 p.m.)
  • Royal Gorge Fire: 3,216 acres, 40 percent containment (updated 11:49 a.m.)
  • Big Meadows Fire: 333 acres, 30 percent containment
  • Kilkus Fire: 42 acres, 100 percent containment

Updates and additional information can be found at wildfire.kunc.org.

Update 6:36 p.m. - If you're curious what it's like under the helmet of a firefighter in the burn zone then this video is for you. Posted by the AP via the Air Force Academy, it shows just what it's like lugging a hose and confronting the flames.

Update 5:45 p.m. - The next scheduled media brief will be Saturday at Noon. Unless fire behaviors change, this will be our last update of the evening. We will continue to monitor the Black Forest Fire and will update as conditions warrant.

Update 5:42 p.m. - Here's the new evacuation areas via El Paso County:

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.

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

Update 5:37 p.m. - More good news was delivered at the evening briefing, with fire officials announcing that some of the evacuations will be lifted. They caution though that residents should remain ready to leave if fire activity changes.

El Paso Sheriff Terry Maketa said that after getting pushed around for a few days that "We've dealt a few blows today." That was an assessment that was confirmed quickly when Incident Commander Rich Harvey stepped up to the mic and then announced that containment has been pushed up to 30 percent. That's a large climb from the previous 5 percent containment.

Harvey also followed up with one of the jokes from the morning briefing, thanking everyone who washed their car, thereby inviting the rain. "We very much appreciate the rain," said Harvey. Earlier in the day the overcast skies dropped about a tenth of an inch of rain on the fire. The rain bought firefighters time and opportunity, but didn't put it out.

"Fire trucks from the sky," is how Incident Commander Rich Harvey spoke of the rain.

The fire isn't a done deal says Harvey, the middle is still active. Firefighters will be patrolling the burn zone this evening, and another night shift is scheduled as well to battle the blaze.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, no cause has been determined. Sheriff Maketa did say that they received plenty of tips after announcing the tip line Friday morning. About 100 calls and 50 emails came in, with 15 related directly to the cause of the fire and will be further investigated.

Update 4:58 p.m. - Another updated preliminary home assessment [.pdf] has been released, 400 homes lost, 12 partially damaged, 2388 appear unaffected.

Update 4:17 p.m. - Good news for Colorado Springs, the city has announced that they have lifted the mandatory evacuation for the area in city limits. Here's the area as a reminder: Northern Boundary: North Gate and Old North Gate Road – Southern Boundary: Interquest Parkway – Eastern Boundary: Highway 83 – Western Boundary: Voyager Parkway.

We're expecting a media update around 5 p.m., we hope to have more details then.

Update 1:02 p.m. - The El Paso Sheriff's Office has released the latest preliminary home assessment [.pdf]. The new count is 389 homes lost, 12 partially damaged, and 2178 appear unaffected.

Update 12:53 p.m. - If you're curious how firefighters conduct structure protection, the Colorado Springs Fire Department has posted a video from Wednesday in the fire zone showing just that. The incredible thing about it is just how fast the fire travels.

Steve Schopper of the CSFD describes the fire as traveling 6 inches every second as it burns the ground cover quickly, too fast in fact to try and climb a tree. It's also amazing to see just how close the fire gets to the houses that have been saved in the burn zone.

There's a few segments that are point-of-view as well - well worth a few moments to appreciate what firefighters are working against inside the Black Forest.

Update 11:22 a.m. – The cause of the Black Forest Fire is likely human. That’s the belief of Sheriff Terry Maketa the Denver Post reports:

"I'm pretty confident that natural causes will be out the window," he said. With two deaths already blamed on the fire, investigators will focus on whether the cause was arson or an accident.

You can read more at the Denver Post.

Update 10:47 a.m. - Size and containment remain consistent on the Black Forest Fire, 15,702 acres and 5 percent respectively. Fire officials have released a fire perimeter map which is embedded below. The red line is the fire edge, the pink area the burn zone, and yellow dots represent structures.

Black Forest Fire perimeter map, June 14
Credit Great Basin Incident Management Team

Update 10:06 a.m. – In stark relief to his demeanor Thursday, El Paso Sheriff Terry Maketa started the morning briefing saying that he’s “feeling much better today.”

The mood was much lighter, a few smiles even, as officials relayed that it was a good overnight effort from both fire crews and law enforcement. It was cooperative as well, law enforcement helped firefighters find hot spots, calling them in.

Maketa even joked after noting the overcast skies, saying if you haven’t washed your car yet, go ahead and do that – that will bring the rain. That drew chuckles from the press scrum, a welcome change from the grim news the fire has brought so far. Maketa used the word ‘encouraged’ in his remarks.

Incident Commander Rich Harvey remained cautious in his words, but upbeat as well. Harvey said that the “aviation assets are strong, we didn’t lose anything from yesterday.” Tankers, MAFFS, and helicopters will remain on the fire Friday.

38,000 people in an area of about 93,000 acres remain affected by the Black Forest Fire.

Maketa again thanked everyone involved in the fire efforts. “It’s truly a community and statewide effort, I didn’t want that to go unsaid,” said Maketa. “I have never seen the response to a fire that I’ve seen now. Even on the Fort Carson Fire several years ago, I have never seen… I mean that’s a federal installation, reservation – we had more response to this than to what I experienced on that one.”

A tip line for the cause of the fire has been established at 719-444-8393, answered 24/7 or by email: blackforestfiretipline@elpasoco.com.

Update 8:33 a.m.  – There are currently 800 personnel fighting the Black Forest Fire. In addition to local law enforcement, first responders, and the National Incident Management Team that took over Thursday, the military and National Guard are making contributions as well.

Colorado Springs is home to Fort Carson, Peterson AFB, and the Air Force Academy. Earlier in the week, we pointed out that Air Force MAFFS would be flying out of Peterson AFB to fight the fire. On Thursday, we noted that the academy had sent two fire engines to the effort. Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, has a great round up of the contributions the services are making to the Black Forest Fire effort.

The story starts with personal anecdote that points out Colorado Springs’ tie to the armed services, interviewing Air Force Master Sergeant Tom Freeman.

"On Wednesday morning, he heard his childhood home in Black Forest had burned to the ground.

He mulled that information Wednesday afternoon at a Peterson Air Force Base flightline as he helped prepare one of two modular airborne firefighting system-equipped C-130s that would drop fire retardant along Black Forest fire containment lines.

He would be on one of those aircraft when it dropped slurry later that day."

Update 7:15 a.m.Kirk Siegler reports on the Black Forest Fire for Morning Edition saying “like much of Colorado’s heavily populated Front Range, natural wildfires have long been suppressed here.” Siegler further reports that weather conditions will be “more of the same, and authorities are concerned that the destruction could get even worse.”

Today's fire forecast for Colorado Springs and the surrounding area is 'high' to 'very high.'

Update 6:38 a.m. - We've seen one of the first aerial shots this morning of the Black Forest Fire courtesy of the local TV news helicopter. Cody Crouch posted this view of the fire to Twitter, from the northwest side looking to the east.

Update 6:06 a.m. – The Gazette is reporting this morning that El Paso Sheriff Terry Maketa made an appearance Friday on the Today Show. The Gazette writes that Maketa told the program that his office is investigating the announced deaths as homicides and spoke to the possibility of arson as a cause of the fire. It is important to note that no official cause of the Black Forest Fire has been determined. You can read more at the Gazette’s live blog of Friday’s updates.

Black Forest Fire

Already becoming the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history by property damage, the Black Forest Fire turned deadly Thursday. Sheriff Terry Maketa somberly announced the discovery of the remains of two individuals at the evening media briefing.

“We began conducting a search, around 2 o’clock this afternoon, between 2 and 2:30, we were able to identify the remains of one individual. An hour later a second individual,” said Maketa. “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 o’clock 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 now.”

The area where they were found is heavily wooded and Maketa said that the individuals were found in a garage with open car doors. It appeared they were trying to leave.

City and county evac areas, including the IR fire boundary (the dark red line) on June 13
Credit City of Colorado Springs

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office posted an updated home assessment overnight [.pdf], the new count stands at 379 homes lost, 9 partially damaged, and 1813 that appear unaffected. Thursday’s developments with the Black Forest were dramatic with the size of the fire increasing overnight and parts of Colorado Springs falling under a mandatory evacuation.

Royal Gorge Fire

The Cañon City Daily Record reports that evacuations have been lifted in the Royal Gorge Fire as containment has increased and fire officials seem to have a handle on the blaze. The announcement of lifting of the evacuations came at a public meeting Thursday night. The Daily Record wrote about the meeting and the reminder from officials on procedures to re-entry into the fire area.

"Those folks going back into their homes, we ask that you please keep your ID's with you," [Sheriff Jim Beicker] Beicker said during Thursday's meeting. "That's for your protection. We're not going to want to let somebody in who doesn't live in your home."

No cause has been determined in the Royal Gorge Fire which sparked Tuesday, June 11 near the iconic Royal Gorge Bridge. The bridge still stands, but the park around the bridge hasn’t fared well. KRDO News Radio posted an incredible picture to Twitter of the devastation at the park. It shows the remains of buildings, dark smoke looms in the background as does the bridge.

Big Meadows Fire

The lightning started Big Meadows Fire still burns west of Rocky Mountain National Park. No structures or communities are threatened as the fire is moving northeast and burning in a heavily wooded area. The goal of fire officials remains to keep the fire from crossing the Continental Divide. There are some trail closures in the area; Rocky Mountain National Park has setup a recorded fire info line at (970) 586-1381.

Kilkus Fire

Firefighters can scratch one fire off their list of the original four in Colorado Tuesday; Huerfano dispatch tweeted Thursday night that the Kilkus Fire is fully contained. The Kilkus Fire was the smallest and the southernmost of the four fires, starting near La Veta, Colo. The Denver Post notes that there were no structures lost or injuries reported in the fire.