BLACK FOREST, Colo. - The Black Forest Fire burning out of control north of Colorado Springs is estimated to have consumed between 7,500 and 8,000 acres. There is no containment.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa at 10 p.m. said the evacuation area includes about 24,000 acres and impacts 6,426 people who occupy 2,302 homes in the area.
40-60 homes are estimated to have burned by the incident commander, Maketa said. He cautioned, however, that it is difficult to have a proper estimate at this time and that the number is likely to grow.
"You can easily assume it's higher than that," the sheriff said.
The boundaries of the original mandatory evacuation area are bordered on the west by Tahosa Lane/Pergrine Way, south by Burgess Road, east by Meridian Road and north by Hodgen Road. An additional mandatory evacuation order was issued at 10:20 p.m. for the area bounded by Hodgen Road on the north, Rex Road on the south, Meridian Road on the west and Eastonville Road on the east.
A pre-evacuation order was announced for the area that hasn't yet been evacuated south of Burgess Road, east of Milam Road, north of Stapleton Drive and west of Elbert Road.
"The more people that can vacate the area, the better it is for fire response," Maketa said.
Residents will not be allowed back in once they leave the area, authorities warned.
The Red Cross has set up three shelters for evacuees. The shelters are at Palmer Ridge High School, New Life Church and the Elbert County Fairgrounds. Small animals and pets can also be taken to Palmer Ridge but no animals are allowed at New Life Church.
Large animals can be taken to Norris Penrose Equestrian Center or the Elbert County Fairgrounds.
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday night, the Red Cross reported having 63 people staying at New Life and Palmer Ridge High School.
Ben Mulnix was one of those spending the night. He lives in the southeast part of the evacuation area but said he could see the orange from the fire.
A deputy with the El Paso County Sheriff’s office came to Mulnix's door in the middle of the afternoon and warned him to be ready to leave. Within 20 minutes, he was told he had to evacuate. Not prepared, he grabbed his dogs and medication, then got out the door..
“I didn't have anything packed. I've never thought about having something like that prepared, I will next time. If there is a next time,” Mulnix said.
Just before 6 p.m. Thomas Garmong and his family got the call to leave. Garmong said as they were the smoke was heavy as they fled the area.
“Just grabbed what I could and threw it in the truck. The wife and kids got to a hotel so they're safe, so that's good. But I’m trying to figure out what to do next,” Garmong said.
No fatalities have been reported but several residents who decided not to leave when they were initially told to evacuate have now found themselves surrounded by the flames and are calling for help, Maketa said.
(See images of wildfire engulfing homes: http://ch7ne.ws/18ui2RK )
-- Fire first reported around 1 p.m. --
The wildfire was originally reported around 1:30 p.m. off Shoup Road, at the time of that report the sheriff's office estimated the fire was about 15 acres.
By 5 p.m. there was a single helicopter dropping water on the boundaries of the blaze.
The Fort Carson Fire Department and the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade have also been called to help firefighting efforts. At least several helicopters, including two Chinooks and two Blackhawks, were seen making water drops in the area.
Sheriff Maketa provided this list at 10 p.m. of the resources fighting the fire:
- 155 firefighters
- 130 law enforcement officers
- 16 water tenders
- 36 engines
- 4 bulldozers
- 4 type 1 helicopters
- 1 type 2 helicopters
- 1 type 3 helicopters
- 1 type 1 air tanker
The Modular Airborne Firefighting System, called "MAFFS," based at Peterson Air Force Base will be deployed to fight this fire, according to Congressman Doug Lamborn's spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen.
A Type 3 incident command team is currently in charge of the fire, but Maketa said he expected to have a Type I team assigned to the wildfire during the day Wednesday.
-- Record-breaking heat and red flag warning--
The conditions are prime for a major wildfire and at least three major wildfires blew up in the state Tuesday afternoon. Besides the Black Forest Fire, firefighters are also battling wildfires near the Royal Gorge, at Rocky Mountain National Park and in Douglas County near Bergen Rock.
Winds were gusting between 20-40 mph, temperatures climbed to near 100 degrees and humidity levels were in the single digits, said 24/7 Weather Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson.
"It's very, very reminiscent of what we experienced in Waldo Canyon," Maketa said about the blaze burned more than 300 homes last June in the Colorado Springs area.
A Red Flag warning went into effect on Monday and was in effect until 9 p.m. Tuesday.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department initially called it this fire the Falcon Fire, because it started near Falcon Drive, but have since changed it to the Black Forest Fire because it is burning in Black Forest.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office tweeted that the fire started near the 12600 block of Peregrine Way in Black Forest, west of Black Forest Regional Park.
The cause of the fire is not known.
-- Resources --
For information on the fire call 719-444-8300. Use this number instead of calling local emergency numbers.
Also check out http://www.elpasoco.com/Pages/default.aspx
-- Map of evacuation zone, based on the most recently updated information: http://ch7ne.ws/10agjgQ
View Black Forest Fire Evacuation Map in a larger map