YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Colorado's Black Forest fire grows into state's most destructive

June 13, 2013|By Jenny Deam and Michael Muskal

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Black Forest wildfire has become the most destructive in Colorado history, burning at least 360 homes, officials said Thursday.

The fire is about 10 miles east of last year’s Waldo Canyon fire, which had been the state’s most destructive after killing two people and wiping out 346 homes.

No injuries have been reported from the Black Forest fire, but one person is believed to be missing in the blaze -- one of four in the state. Officials said the cause is still undetermined for the Black Forest fire, which was reported about 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

PHOTOS: Black Forest fire

The number of houses confirmed lost to the wildfire more than tripled overnight, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said at a morning news conference, with at least 360 homes destroyed and 14 others partly damaged.

That number, however, could increase Thursday. Officials have been unable to reach or check on at least 79 addresses, the sheriff said.

Thick smoke that burns throats and stings eyes has blanketed the area, with a haze thickening the air an hour's drive north in Denver. On Wednesday, Denver International Airport temporarily closed two runways due to reduced visibility.

The fire continues to churn through dry trees, grass and pine needles. The fire is burning without any containment, officials said. As of Thursday morning, more than 15,000 acres have been consumed, Maketa said.

The evacuation area expanded overnight, moving closer to heavily populated areas. Nearly 2,500 homes were evacuated Tuesday night with law enforcement officers going door to door. More than 9,000 people have been asked to relocate.

Firefighters continued to battle gusty and unpredictable winds that have caused the fire to double back and move through previous burn areas, often with heartbreaking results. “Homes we knew were standing yesterday I personally watched go down last night,” Maketa said.

Forecasters have said the weather conditions, including wind gusts of 30-35 mph, will continue to hamper firefighting efforts. There are also forecasts of thunderstorms moving into the area, which could produce lightning, increasing the chances of new fires.

“Wind is our No. 1 threat. It has been a game changer,” the sheriff said.

About 60 miles southwest, the Royal Gorge fire continued to burn on about 4.5 square miles. About 20 structures have been destroyed, and a suspension bridge over a canyon the Arkansas River flows through has been damaged.

Another fire, sparked by lightning, burned in Rocky Mountain National Park. It has grown to an estimated 600 acres.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has declared disaster emergencies for the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires as well as a fourth fire in rural Huerfano County, where about 60 acres have burned. The declaration authorizes about $10.15 million to help pay for firefighting and other costs.


Heavy rain and wind nearing East Coast, but no derecho

Same-sex marriage may overshadow other LGBT issues, poll finds

NSA leak and an armored-truck robbery: the odd Florida connection

Deam reported from Colorado Springs and Muskal from Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times Articles