Colorado Infernos Likely To Grow: ‘Whatever Is In Its Way, It’s Going To Take’
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) — Anxiety chokes central Colorado like the smoke smothering its skies.
Two ferocious wildfires are roaring across the region, scorching thousands of acres and devouring dozens of homes.
“This part, not knowing if I have a house or not is the worst,” said Paula Warren, one of thousands of residents forced to flee as the Black Forest Fire closed in on her home northeast of Colorado Springs.
“I thought I had about an hour, and it turned out to be about 20 minutes,” she said. “I had a pillowcase full of socks, and that’s basically all I have.”
The Black Forest Fire is one of two major fires taking its toll on the land and resources. The other, the Royal Gorge Fire, is burning on the other side of Colorado Springs, threatening the iconic Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge.
Firefighters have continued their assault on the flames from the ground and from the sky.
But high temperatures, dry brush and gusty winds are proving to be a catastrophic combination.
Ken Litch is a 12-year resident of the area. On Wednesday, he watched as the Black Forest Fire gained ground on his home. There wasn’t much else he could go.
“A hundred homes would be nothing,” he told CNN affiliate KUSA. “Whatever is in its way, it’s going to take.”
And it’s already taken quite a bit.
At last check, the Black Forest Fire had spread to 8,500 acres, according to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management. Firefighters have not been able to gain any containment of the blaze.
“We have some very unpredictable conditions,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said Wednesday. “Priorities are saving lives (including) protecting first responders and firefighters.”
‘… And then it’s gone’
The inferno is likely to continue for a couple more days as temperatures are forecast to stay in the 90s through Friday, with winds gusting up to 30 mph.
Maketa said he anticipated the fire would grow by another 3,000 acres.
Mandatory evacuation orders, which extended over a 55-square-mile area, affected about 9,000 people in more than 3,400 households.
Thankfully, as of Wednesday afternoon, there were no reports of casualties, but one person might be missing, Maketa said.
Still, at least 92 structures were labeled as lost, leaving many families heartbroken.
“You’ve worked your whole life to have your own little place on this globe,” said one man, his voice choked with emotion. “You find someplace that’s special to you … and then it’s gone.”
Famous bridge still intact
The Royal Gorge Fire is burning about 55 miles to the southwest.
Authorities downgraded the number of acres burned from 3,800 to 3,100 late Wednesday. It was less than half the size of the Black Forest Fire and was 20% contained, the state office of emergency management reported. Twenty structures have been lost to the flames.
“We have made good progress on the fire today without any accidents or injuries,” said Dennis Page, incident commander for the fire.
The Royal Gorge Fire triggered the precautionary evacuation of some 905 inmates from the Centennial Correctional Facility, located in Canon City.
Most of the inmates are “special needs,” meaning they receive medical treatment, said state corrections department spokeswoman Alison Morgan.
The famous Royal Gorge Bridge that spans the Arkansas River is still intact but needs to be inspected before it can reopen for tourists, a spokeswoman for the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park said.
The suspension bridge, which is 956 feet above the river and among the highest in the world, is made of more than 1,000 wooden planks.
“We did not know until today whether the bridge was still standing,” Gorge Bridge and Park spokeswoman Peggy Gair said.
Gair says fire at the park burned a visitor’s center, a tramway building, a carousel and several restaurants.
There were other fires in the state as well, including in Grand and Huerfano Counties.
But none as threatening as the one in Black Forest, now eerily resembling its name.
By Ed Payne and Paul Vercammen
CNN’s Paul Vercammen reported from Colorado Springs and Ed Payne reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Dan Simon in Colorado Springs contributed to this report along with Greg Botelho and Dave Alsup.
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