Two killed as Colorado wildfires destroy 360 homes, force evacuations in Colorado Springs
Two people have died in the 15,700-acre wildfire that has forced the evacuations of about 39,000 people in the Colorado Springs area, authorities said Thursday.
The bodies were found Thursday about an hour apart, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said at a news conference. A third person who was reported missing Wednesday has been found safe, he said.
The Black Forest fire — one of three major blazes burning in the state — was only 5 percent contained and was menacing 13,000 properties in the area. It had reduced 360 homes to cinders by Thursday afternoon.
Robert Schmidt's home was among them.
"We were the typical 'house-poor,'" Schmidt told NBC News. We bought this. This is our dream home in the forest, and it's gone."
About 13,000 properties were threatened, and 39,000 people in the region were forced to flee. More than 700 firefighters were at work on the fire, reinforced by active-duty military and National Guard troops, said Rich Harvey, a federal incident commander.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey said he was in discussions with the National Guard to provide security in the evacuated areas.
It was not just the worst of three destructive fires burning simultaneously across the state, but also the worst in state history, authorities said. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three disaster emergencies Thursday authorizing a combined $10.15 million to help pay for firefighting and other costs.
A revised evacuation order for a large area on the northeast side of the Colorado Springs area included a mandatory order for some residential areas of the city itself — meaning "you are in immediate danger. Load your family and pets, and GO NOW," the sheriff's office said.
Colorado Springs and El Paso County evacuation map (.pdf)
The flames racing toward Colorado Springs — second only to Denver as the state's biggest city, with 400,000 residents — raised memories of last year's Waldo Canyon fire, which swept through the area and was the most destructive in the state's history to that point, destroying 346 homes and forcing more than 35,000 people to evacuate.
"I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined we'd be dealing a year later with a very similar circumstance," Maketa said.
Shifting winds remained a concern, Harvey said.
"I do not like wind," he said.
"Shifting is sometimes good and sometimes bad," he added. "We did not have any reports today as it shifted around that it caused any serious problems."
A separate blaze threatened a historic bridge as it spread about 100 miles southwest of Denver.
Forty-eight of the 52 structures in the area of the Royal Gorge fire, burning about 15 miles from Cañon City, were destroyed, authorities said Thursday afternoon. The fire had charred about 3,150 acres and was 20 percent contained.
The fire is burning on both sides of the Royal Gorge Bridge, which stretches more than 950 feet above the Arkansas River and is surrounded by theme park attractions. The bridge itself was still intact, officials said at a news conference.
The Royal Gorge fire forced the evacuation of 900 prisoners from the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility outside Cañon City to other prisons Tuesday.
"We have made good progress on the fire today without any accidents or injuries thanks in large part to our many partners," Dennis Page, incident commander for the Royal Gorge Fire, told the Cañon City Daily Record.