Colorado Wildfire Destroys At Least 360 Homes

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COLORADO SPRINGS,
Colo. (AP) — A wildfire in a dry, densely wooded area of Colorado
has destroyed at least 360 homes – nearly four times the previous
estimate and a number that seemed likely to climb as the flames kept
burning out of control, authorities said Thursday.

The
tally of lost homes was a dramatic increase from Wednesday evening,
when 92 homes were listed as gone. The blaze in the Black Forest area
northeast of Colorado Springs is now the most destructive in Colorado
history, surpassing last year's Waldo Canyon fire, which burned 347
homes, killed two people and led to $353 million in insurance claims.

“I
never in my wildest dreams imagined we'd be dealing a year later with
very similar circumstances,” said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.
“Maybe we just had 20 to 30 years of luck.”

Deputies still have not been able to verify the condition of 79 other homes, so the losses could rise.

Some
of the homes that were previously listed as standing were destroyed as
high winds pushed the 23-square-mile wildfire back into areas that had
already burned, the sheriff said.

The number
also rose because deputies worked through the night to assess the
damage, although they were also pushed out by the flames at times.

“Houses we knew were standing yesterday I personally witnessed they were lost last night,” Maketa said.

Fueled
by hot temperatures, wind gusts and bone-dry forest conditions, the
flames have also forced more evacuations. About 38,000 people who live
in an area spanning nearly 70 square miles were under mandatory orders
to get out.

Jaenette Coyne was one of those ordered to leave as quickly as possible.

After
calling 911 to report smoke behind her home, Coyne estimated she had
five minutes to leave home. There was no time to grab wedding albums,
fingerprint artwork by her 20-month-old daughter, quilts her grandmother
made or the family's three cats.

“We left with nothing,” she said.

She and her husband later watched on television as flames engulfed their house.

“I don't know how to tell you in words what it felt like,” she said. “It's the worst thing I've ever felt in my whole life.”

Part of neighboring Elbert County, including two camps with about 1,250 children and adults, was also evacuated.

No
injuries or deaths have been reported, but Maketa said officials are
trying to confirm the whereabouts of one person reported missing.

The
fire was among several that have been burning along Colorado's Front
Range. Wildfires were also burning in New Mexico, Oregon and California,
where a smokejumper was killed fighting one of dozens of
lightning-sparked blazes.

The U.S. Forest
Service on Wednesday mobilized a pair of Defense Department cargo planes
to help – a step taken only when all of the Forest Service's 12
contracted tankers are in use. At least one was fighting the Black
Forest fire.

About 60 miles southwest of the
Black Forest, a 4.5-square-mile wildfire that evacuated Royal Gorge
Bridge & Park has destroyed 20 structures, including some in the
park.

The Royal Gorge suspension bridge
spanning a canyon across the Arkansas River has fire damage to 32 of its
1,292 wooden planks, city officials said. An aerial tram car and tram
buildings on either side of the gorge were destroyed, and the tram cable
fell into the gorge. An incline railway descending 1,500 feet to the
canyon floor was damaged.

Another fire sparked
by lightning Monday in Rocky Mountain National Park has grown to an
estimated 600 acres in area with trees killed by pine beetles.

Gov.
John Hickenlooper has declared disaster emergencies for the Black
Forest and Royal Gorge fires and a 60-acre fire in rural Huerfano
County, authorizing a combined $10.15 million to help pay for
firefighting and other costs.

At a Wal-Mart
and Home Depot parking lot, evacuees Greg and Sharon Rambo set up camp.
They had been living in a modular home in Black Forest as they waited to
close on a larger house nearby. They believe both have burned.

“It leaves you feeling numb, loss of appetite, disoriented,” Greg Rambo said.

The
couple previously lived in Southern California and were evacuated
during a 2004 blaze that hopscotched over their property without
damaging it. Since then, they have carried a briefcase filled with
medications and important documents, and kept their trailer far from
their house so they'd have a place to sleep in the event their home
burns down.

Their daughter, who lives nearby, called them Tuesday and urged them to flee. They do not know if her house also burned.

Meanwhile,
Coyne said, her young daughter has been asking when her family can go
home and “see their kitties.” She said the family has a place to stay
but could use guidance on what to do next.

“What do you do when you've lost everything,” she said.


 

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