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Wildfire Near Colorado Springs Is Most Destructive in State History

June 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
A wildfire in Colorado has become the most destructive in the state's history. The blaze has spread across 94,000 acres, spurred by high winds and hot, dry conditions. The fire continues to burn out of control in a heavily wooded area northeast of Colorado Springs. Jeffrey Brown has an update on the fire and evacuations

JEFFREY BROWN: And the other major story today, for the second year in a row, Colorado is under assault by an out-of-control wildfire. Today, there was word of widespread losses and warnings of perhaps even worse to come.

SHERIFF TERRY MAKETA, El Paso County, Colo.: We have, right now, 360 homes that are complete losses.

JEFFREY BROWN: The news came from Sheriff Terry Maketa in El Paso County, Colo. The count of homes burned nearly quadrupled in 24 hours, and it could go higher still.

TERRY MAKETA: We have 79 addresses that we could not verify for numerous reasons, either accessibility, downed trees, or the fire activity disrupted the assessment and we were unable to send cars in.

JEFFREY BROWN: The fire sprang to life Tuesday and spread across 94,000 acres, fueled by high winds and hot, dry conditions.

Some homes survived initially, only to be consumed when shifting winds blew flames back on them. Today, the fire was burning out of control in the Black Forest, a heavily wooded area northeast of Colorado Springs. It’s not far from the site of 2012’s Waldo Canyon fire. That blaze one year ago this month engulfed 347 homes, killed two people and led to more than $350 million dollars in insurance claims.

So far, there have been no deaths or injuries in the Black Forest fire, but more than 38,000 people have been forced from their homes.

WOMAN: I’m not sure if my house is lost. I just don’t know.

MAN: We took photographs. Things that we can’t replace, we brought with us. Other than that, we’re saying fire insurance has a reason for it.

GEORGE GONZALES, Fire Victim: It’s terrible. We have our motor home here, so we’re just — we’re going to be leaving here pretty quick, but we don’t like it. Our other neighbors are here too.

JEFFREY BROWN: As the fire spread today, mandatory evacuations spread to Colorado Springs, affecting some 1,000 homes. Firefighters and authorities, including the National Guard, say they’re throwing everything they can at the inferno, including two C-130 cargo planes outfitted to drop slurry retardant from above.

LT. COL. MITCH UTTERBACK, Colorado National Guard: I almost want to say, here we are again. We learned a lot last year from Waldo.

JEFFREY BROWN: But hundreds of homes are still in jeopardy, and Sheriff Maketa says their fate depends largely on how the wind blows.

TERRY MAKETA: We are watching the weather conditions very closely, and wind is probably our number one threat. It is what has been the game-changer. It is what has changed the conditions.

JEFFREY BROWN: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has declared emergencies for the Black Forest blaze and another fire sixty miles to the southwest at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. That one has burned 20 structures. Still another fire sparked by lightning Monday is burning in the state’s Rocky Mountain National Park.