About 900 inmates at a medium-security Colorado state prison have been evacuated because of the danger from a growing wildfire, one of four sweeping through the state.
No injuries have been reported from the four fires that have forced the evacuations of thousands people in several areas and have destroyed dozens of structures. The largest evacuation was from the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility near Colorado Springs.
“This is the largest full-scale evacuation in recent memory,” state prisons spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson told The Times on Wednesday morning. The state Department of Corrections moved the 905 inmates from Territorial Correctional Facility near Colorado Springs on Tuesday night starting with a group of two dozen from the prison’s infirmary.
By Wednesday, they were all in the East Canon Correctional Complex just a few miles away, Jacobson said. There were no problems in the move by bus and there is room at the complex at Canon City, she said.
It was unclear how long the inmates will have to stay, Jacobson said. That will depend on the Royal Gorge fire which continued to burn Wednesday morning. There is also a heavy smoke from the blaze and officials are concerned about possible air quality issues, Jacobson said.
“We have moved other groups of inmates before but I don’t know if we have ever done one this large,” Jacobson said, adding it was the highest number of inmates to be shifted that she could recall. “We prepare, plan and train for this throughout the year.”
The Royal Gorge fire has consumed more than 3,800 acres and destroyed three structures. It is one of two for which the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already authorized federal funds, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Tuesday, pledging to vigorously fight the blazes. The other fire is the Black Forest fire.
“There is nobody backing away and saying we're not going to attack this with everything that we've got,” Hickenlooper said at a late Tuesday news conference.
The Black Forest Fire is just northeast of Colorado Springs. It has burned through 40 to 60 homes and forced the evacuation of about 6,500 people, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa told reporters.
As much as 8,000 acres have been burned by the blaze, which began about 1 p.m. Tuesday. No injuries have been reported.
At least six helicopters and an air tanker were on the scene, Maketa said in a televised news conference. In addition, C-130 cargo planes were to be deployed.
The Black Forest fire is near last summer's Waldo Canyon Fire that destroyed 346 homes and killed two people.
“It's very, very reminiscent of what we experienced in Waldo Canyon,” Maketa told reporters.
The sheriff said the fires were moving quickly, powered by strong winds that were hindering firefighters. “Weather is not working with us right now, but our guys are giving it a heck of a shot,” Maketa said.
Two other fires were reported.
The Klikus Fire had burned an estimated 45 to 50 acres west of La Veta, prompting evacuation orders for about 200 residences.
A fourth wildfire, believe started by a lightning strike on Monday in Rocky Mountain National Park, has grown to an estimated 300 to 400 acres. No structures were threatened.