Thousands in Colorado flee 3 wildfires

Out-of-control blazes made worse by high winds, parched forests
2013-06-13T00:00:00Z Thousands in Colorado flee 3 wildfiresThe Associated Press The Associated Press
June 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A wildfire fueled by hot temperatures, gusty winds and thick, bone-dry forests has destroyed 92 homes, damaged five more and prompted more than 7,000 residents northeast of Colorado Springs to flee, sheriff's official said Wednesday.

A separate Colorado wildfire to the south led to the evacuation of about 250 residents and nearly 1,000 inmates at medium-security prison, while to the north another fire burned in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Wildfires also were burning in New Mexico, Oregon and California, where a smokejumper was killed fighting one of dozens of lightning-sparked fires.

Crews were so busy battling blazes across the West that the U.S. Forest Service announced Wednesday it is mobilizing a pair of Defense Department cargo planes to help - a step taken only when all of the Forest Service's contracted tankers already are in use.

The fire near Colorado Springs, one of several that broke out Tuesday along Colorado's Front Range, has prompted evacuation orders and pre-evacuation notices to between 9,000 and 9,500 people and about 3,500 homes and businesses, sheriff's officials said.

Some Colorado Springs residents were warned to be ready to evacuate, mostly because of a fear of flying embers spreading the fire into the state's second-largest city. Sheriff's officials also evacuated part of neighboring Elbert County, including two camps with a total of about 1,250 kids and adults.

The smell of smoke and bits of ash floated in Denver, about 60 miles to the north, where the haze blocked the sun.

No injuries or deaths have been reported, but El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said officials were trying to confirm the whereabouts of one person reported missing Wednesday. Firefighters tried to go where the person was last seen but were turned back twice because it was too hot, he said.

Maketa said he was worried about those who chose to ignore evacuation orders and stay behind. "One of my worst fears is that people took their chances and it may have cost them their life," he said.

The area is not far from last summer's Waldo Canyon Fire that destroyed 346 homes and killed two.

Denver Broncos guard Ben Garland's grandparents lost their home in the Waldo Canyon Fire and now live in a Black Forest neighborhood. They left their new home Tuesday, returned and were watching the fire Wednesday.

"It's tough. It was tough going through it the first time," Garland said. "I know the first time, we didn't take it as seriously. We just thought it'd pass over and the firefighters would take care of it. The second time, it was really scary and they packed up real quick and got ready to go."

The Forest Service said it was mobilizing two specially equipped Defense Department C-130s to drop slurry on wildfires in the West after all 12 of its air tankers were deployed.

By law, the Modular Airborne Firefighting System - MAFFS - planes can be deployed only when all of the Forest Service's contracted tankers are in use. Around this time last year, the aircraft sat on runways when massive wildfires burned in Colorado and New Mexico.

The agency didn't say where the C-130s would be used. But the planes are based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said they would be used to fight the nearby Black Forest Fire.

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