Black Forest Fire Rages as Thousands Evacuated

June 14, 2013
More than 41,000 people have been evacuated since the fire was reported Tuesday

More than 41,000 people have been evacuated since the fire was reported Tuesday

COLO. SPRINGS – Barely a year after the Waldo Canyon inferno ravaged the Mountain Shadows community, a blaze ripped through the Black Forest community in El Paso County, killing two people and destroying 379 homes by Thursday night.

“We were truly hoping that we could get from day to day without coming across news like this,” said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa of the deaths.

The unnamed individuals, he said, had been notified to evacuate but were reported missing. They were discovered Thursday near their car with a door left open and the trunk loaded with belongings.

“My heart and I know the heart of this community goes out to the family and friends they leave behind,” said Maketa.

More than 41,000 people have been evacuated since the fire was reported Tuesday in the Black Forest community nestled between Colorado Springs and Monument. Dry conditions and high winds whipped it into a blaze spreading throughout the dense pine forest that had been a haven for residents.

Multiple local fire districts, some volunteer, swiftly responded to battle the fire while county sheriff’s deputies and the State Highway Patrol notified residents to evacuate. Fort Carson dispatched helicopters, dumping buckets of water but it wasn’t enough to douse the blaze.

Firefighting resources in the state were stretched that day – the Black Forest Fire was one of five blazes. There were fires at the Royal Gorge in Fremont County, Rocky Mountain National Park in Larimer County, Huerfano County and Douglas County.

Fifth District Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) responded by obtaining a verbal agreement with the National Interagency Fire Center to dispatch MAFF heavy air tankers at Petersen Air Force on Base on Wednesday.

By late Tuesday night, 40 homes had been reduced to ashes — few could have anticipated that the number would climb to 379 within two days.

Gov. John Hickenlooper attended Maketa’s press briefing late Tuesday night and the sheriff signed the required documents requesting assistance from the state and the federal governments.

Hickenlooper requested federal resources for the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires and deployed National Guard Troops and equipment to the sites.

With the help of military and civilian aerial coverage, 750 firefighters have battled the 15,700-acre blaze that is now 5 percent contained.

Hickenlooper’s tweet about the meeting drew mixed reactions. Victor Betancourt shared the news on Twitter; Linda Boyd mused, “I wonder how awkward it was for him to face Maketa. HA!”

But the tragedy united people regardless of political beliefs. Maketa praised two firefighters – one from Boulder, the other from Security – who saved The School in the Woods from destruction.

“Those guys just decided they were going to take a stand and save that building,” said Maketa.

“They had their backs against the building and they fought the fire, dug a trench and then stayed there to make sure that school was no longer threatened,” he said. “…They decided today we’re going to win this little battle.”

Politics might have sizzled unseen like the fire that seemed to travel silently beneath layers of pine cones, needles and dead grass. With a strong gust of wind, fire spots popped up.

Maketa is one of 54 county sheriffs who filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds which was signed into law by Hickenlooper.  It was one of several gun-control bills opposed by Maketa, fellow sheriffs and most Republican legislators, but had been pushed through the legislature by Democrats, particularly Senate President John Morse.

Morse, whose district encompasses the southern portion of El Paso County, is now the subject of a recall campaign launched by The Basic Freedom Defense Fund that will learn today how many of the more than 16,000 petition signatures are validated by the Colorado Secretary of State.

The recall effort was publicized and fueled by Laura Carno, head of the women’s group I Am Created Equal, whose life took an unexpected turn Tuesday. Carno had to pack her bags and evacuate her home in Black Forest. Carno told friends she regretted not taking more clothes, but so far her home – and wardrobe — has not burned.

The fire has also threatened the homes of state Reps. Amy Stephens and Dan Nordberg, both Republicans.

Stephens and her husband Ron are on pre-evacuation notice; Nordberg and his wife Maura are expecting their first child in a few weeks and evacuated.

Americans for Prosperity Exec Jeff Crank, an avid hunter and leader in the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition was also force to evacuate his family – but their home appears to be out of danger.

Hurriedly evacuating, many gun owners likely did not obtain the permits and background checks now required to temporarily transfer their weapons to a friend or relative for safekeeping.

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