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Officials hopeful in fight to contain Colorado's worst wildfire

June 14, 2013|By Jenny Deam and Michael Muskal

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Officials dealing with the Black Forest wildfire were cautiously optimistic on Friday, the fourth day of a blaze that has claimed two lives and been declared the state's most destructive fire.

At the morning briefing, officials used phrases like “feeling much better” and “turning a corner.” But Rich Harvey, the incident commander, cautioned: “The corner is a long way away.”

The fire was officially 5% contained and no more houses were reported burned overnight, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa told reporters.

PHOTOS: Black Forest fire

Late Thursday the number of lost houses rose to 379, more than last year’s Waldo Canyon fire, just 10 miles away. Waldo Canyon, which had been the state’s most destructive fire, left 347 homes burned and two dead.

On Thursday, officials also reported that two people had died while apparently trying to flee hours after the fire began on Tuesday afternoon. They were found in their garage near a car with doors open.

In addition to no new homes being lost, firefighters have established some fire lines, needed in the battle to contain the blaze.

There were no reports of looting, and even the weather seemed to be cooperating as the wind has died down and stopped the swirling that had hindered firefighters.

There was even a brief moment of lightheartedness when Maketa said everyone should be encouraged to go wash their cars to bring some much needed rain.

Still, about 39,000 people remained under evacuation orders and officials said they did not think people would be allowed to return to their homes on Friday because the path of the blaze remains unpredictable today. Officials said patrols were continuing as officers looked at houses and reported flare-ups and hot spots to firefighters.

The Black Forest fire is one of several burning in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and California. This year’s fire season is being fueled by drought-like conditions across much of the West.

About 50 miles southwest of Black Forest, the Royal Gorge fire was about 20% contained after about 48 buildings were destroyed in the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park.

A lightning-sparked fire in Rocky Mountain National Park was burning on about 350 acres.

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