Black Forest Fire: Containment up to 65%, 14,198 acres burned, ATF helping arson investigators

Some evacuated homes burglarized

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Crews are gaining ground in the fight against Colorado's most destructive wildfire.

Containment was up to 65 percent Sunday, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

However, no new evacuation orders are expected to be lifted Sunday, Sheriff Maketa said.

The area is considered a crime scene, Maketa said. Hazards like downed trees and power lines and road damage are making it unsafe for many evacuees to return home.

As of Sunday morning, the wildfire had burned 14,198 acres and has already cost more than $5.2 million to fight.

- Sunday's attack plan

All military helicopters were being released Sunday, Lt. Colonel Mitch Utterback with the Colorado National Guard said. 

So far, helicopters have dropped 1,297 buckets over the fire.  That's more than 800,000 gallons of water.

No ground troops are being released yet, said Incident Commander Rich Harvey.

More than 1,100 personnel have been involved in fighting the fire, officials said Sunday. Their resources include 103 engines, two bulldozers, 28 water tenders, and four helicopters.

- Evacuees and burglary victims

More than 20,000 people and 7,017 homes remain evacuated Sunday. That's down from 38,000 people who were evacuated on Friday.

Authorities also raised the number of homes in the fire area that are apparently undamaged from 3,181 to 3,615 Sunday afternoon.

View a complete list of the homes lost: http://ch7ne.ws/13CR4lB

The two people who died in the fire could be identified on Monday, Maketa said Sunday. They were apparently caught by the firestorm as they were loading their car in the garage while attempting to evacuate on Tuesday afternoon.

All missing people have now been accounted for, said Maketa Sunday.

The El Paso County Sheriff's office said it is now dedicating "tremendous resources” to protecting evacuated homes.

There have been four burglaries reported already, Maketa said.

James Hawkins home is one of the four.

"You feel violated," said Hawkins. "What type of scumball would do this? And is it worth it?"

He says the burglars dumped out drawers, looking for jewelry.

"They tried to take the real stuff, but they didn’t get that much because we took the best with us," he said with a smile.

L t Jeff Kramer said they have learned from past fires to saturate the evacuation zone with roving patrols and high-visibility police presence.

However, he said, they can’t be everywhere all the time.

Last year, during the Waldo Canyon Fire police arrested two looters who burglarized a home in the evacuation zone. Last month, a judge sentenced Shane Garrett to 48 years in prison, and  Belinda Wells-Yates got 42 years.

"So perhaps recent past events with following through and those people serving stiff penalties could serve as a deterrent to these crimes in the future," said Lt. Jeff Kramer, El Paso County Sheriff’s spokesman.

National Guard troops are at checkpoints to prevent unauthorized entries into the evacuation area, Utterback said.

- Investigation

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is helping arson investigators zero in on point of origin, Maketa said Sunday.

Investigators believe the fire was human-caused.

To help investigations, the sheriff's office has set up two ways for people to submit tips -- a phone line at 719-444-8393 and an email address: blackforestfiretipline@elpasoco.com

The fire erupted Tuesday June 11, outside of Colorado Springs, driven by hot temperatures and strong winds.


View Black Forest Fire Evacuation Map in a larger map Mobile Link: http://goo.gl/maps/Qf5KL