Firefighters making progress

Most destructive blaze in Colorado's history about half contained
2013-06-16T00:00:00Z Firefighters making progressThe Associated Press The Associated Press
June 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Fire officials say crews have gained the upper hand on the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history and had more than half the blaze contained by late Saturday.

Incident commander Rich Harvey said at an evening news conference that containment of the Black Forest Fire was at 55 percent, up from 45 percent earlier Saturday.

The wildfire, which consumed 15,500 acres, left behind a grim landscape and El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said that in some areas of the blaze's path, it appeared as if "a nuclear bomb went off."

The fire that exploded Tuesday outside of Colorado Springs destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed two people who appeared ready to flee. It's unknown what sparked the blaze.

No additional homes were destroyed as fire crews expanded containment lines, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said. Also, there were no new reports of injury or death, he said.

On Saturday, worried residents waited for permission to return to their neighborhoods to see whether their homes were still standing. As many as 38,000 people from 13,000 homes have displaced since Tuesday.

"Some areas have been marked as all-clear, so we're moving some of those people back into their homes," said Jennifer Brown, an El Paso County spokeswoman.

Maketa said the fire's destruction has made it difficult for his deputies to assess damage.

So far, the fire has cost more than $3.5 million to fight.

Most mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted, as the fire zone remained at 25 square miles.

Some residents have already seen the damage for themselves.

Jack and Judy Roe were able to tour their neighborhood Friday, and saw to their relief that their house had been spared. Several other homes on their block, however, where destroyed.

"Our hearts were breaking for our neighbors," Judy Roe said.

Describing the scene, she said she saw charred piles of what remained of homes, with bricks the only distinguishable feature.

"But other than that, everything is black. The ground, everything is just black," she said.

Some residents were forced to evacuate so quickly they didn't have time to pack an extra change of clothes.

"This is my wardrobe," said Bob Metzger, signaling to his jeans and polo shirt. Metzger and her wife Barbara were among those who lost their house.

The site of the wildfire is only a few miles away from the state's second most destructive wildfire, the Waldo Canyon Fire, which burned last summer.

White House officials said Saturday that President Obama called Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday to get an update on conditions and reinforce his commitment to help. The president also expressed his concern for the devastation and gave his condolences to families who have lost relatives.

More than 1,000 personnel remained on hand to battle the fire as a passing storm system offered help and the risk of harm.

"Hopefully we'll get some rain and no lightning," Brown said.

But for the moment, the situation has started to look better for firefighters.

"Obviously, the first couple of days it was crazy," Brown said. "We've done well getting people time off to sleep. People are getting refreshed, and they're looking better."

Elsewhere in Colorado, fire crews worked to contain other smaller wildfires. In Canon City, 50 miles southwest of Black Forest, the Royal Gorge Fire burned 5 square miles and was 65 percent contained. A lightning-sparked fire in Rocky Mountain National Park had burned nearly 500 acres and was 30 percent contained.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, crews continued Saturday to battle about 93 square miles of tinder-dry forests storms expected over the weekend will bring relief.

Officials said that the Silver Fire in the Gila National Forest was slightly tamed after rainfall hit the northern and southern portion of the blaze. The 34-square-mile inferno near the Arizona border prompted crews to build protection around the historic mining town of Kingston, N.M.

The largest fire burning in New Mexico remained steady on the Valles Caldera National Preserve at 37 square miles and stayed 75 percent contained.

The Tres Lagunas Fire, which has blacked nearly 16 square miles north of Pecos, was 85 percent contained.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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