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Battle continues against Black Forest wildfire in Colorado

June 14, 2013|By Jenny Deam

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Tired officials said Friday that they were working to hold their own in dealing with the Black Forest wildfire, which has destroyed 379 homes and killed two people.

The fire was estimated to have covered about 25 square miles Friday after crews were able to keep it from spreading further despite swirling winds and bone-dry conditions, said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.

“If it was a draw, then that was a victory today,” Maketa said. “because we haven't had many draws lately.”

PHOTOS: Black Forest fire

The Black Forest Fire has surpassed last year’s Waldo Canyon fire as the state’s most devastating. That fire destroyed 347 homes and killed two people. Officials were expected to give more details at a news conference Friday morning.

On Thursday, officials said the dead had perished while apparently trying to flee their home.

Maketa said the victims were found about 2 p.m. Thursday in their garage with the car doors open, probably trying to load belongings when the fire engulfed them. They are thought to have died sometime after 5 p.m. Tuesday as their neighborhood in Black Forest was being evacuated.

Maketa said the two victims had been reported missing after they could no longer be reached by phone. He said someone reported calling them about 4:20 p.m.; the victims said they could see an orange glow to the west and were packing.

Forty minutes later they told the same caller they were about to leave. The caller later told authorities the sound of popping and cracking could be heard in the background.

The identities of the victims have not yet been released. “We were hoping to get through day to day without news like this,” said a shaken Maketa at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

Maketa said the discovery of the bodies means the inquiry is “now a criminal investigation.”

The Black Forest fire, which was first reported about 1 p.m. Tuesday, moved into the record books early Thursday.

At a suburban Wal-Mart parking lot, a makeshift RV park of evacuees had sprung up, with dozens of campers and recreational vehicles settling in. “It's becoming a real community,” said Laurianne Spencer, who fled her home in Black Forest on Tuesday and went back later to retrieve their trailer to live in.

She and her husband have been staying in the trailer along with their two daughters, ages 7 and 13, one cat and two dogs — including a 145-pound Anatolian shepherd.

They shower at a nearby health club and share the Wal-Mart bathroom with shoppers and other evacuees. She says the surrounding stores have been welcoming. On Thursday afternoon, two girls wheeling an orange Home Depot shopping cart made the rounds of trailers, offering frozen treats. Spencer said Wal-Mart gave her girls passes to the new Superman movie, “Man of Steel.”

Even though they are trying to treat the evacuation as an adventure to help ease their daughters' fears, Spencer can't help but worry about their well-being once they return to their neighborhood.

“All of our friends — all of their friends' homes …” She stopped and glanced at her girls, then silently mouthed the word, “Gone.”

For now, she knows she is one of the lucky ones. She stays in contact with a neighbor who refused to evacuate who gives her updates on what has survived and what hasn't.

“We still have a house,” she said. And then she exhaled.

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