The raging wildfire in Black Forest, north of Colorado Springs, has continued raging through the night and has now burnt 15,000 acres.
The fire has also destroyed over 360 homes at last count, and the condition of 79 other homes could not be verified, said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa in a morning press conference. Maketa called the numbers “staggering.”
Wind is the biggest challenge for crews fighting the fire and cutting fire lines, because it keeps shifting. Yesterday the fire moved both northeast and northwest; today the winds are blowing it south. Fire crews have had to retreat on multiple occasions because they were getting trapped by the shifting fire.
After the fire moves through an area, it leaves a layer on top of the soil that’s like “a combination of pine cones and needles and grass,” said Maketa. The layer appears to be dormant but will flare up quickly if the fire moves back over it.
“We saw a lot of flare ups in areas that had previously burned and even some back-burning over some of those areas,” he said. “We have a large area when you’re thinking of 15,000 acres, and you can drive through one hour and things look pretty well calmed down, then you have a gust of wind and you have a fire raging.”
The National Guard is assisting in fighting the fire and has over 130 troops helping right now, said Lt. Col. Mitch Utterback of the Colorado National Guard, which has also supplied four helicopters. The troops are also securing the neighborhoods from which people have evacuated, “Making sure the right people get int here and the wrong people don’t,” said Utterback.
In a combination of 67 square miles of mandatory evacuations and more square miles of voluntary evactions, the expanded evacuation zone covers over 94,000 acres. About 38,000 people live in the evacuation area, which encompasses about 13,000 homes.
Maketa said that the crews are focused on not letting the fire move straight west or northwest, where the more populated areas are.
As for fighting the fire, it is still a tough battle. “We’re not at a point right now that we can actually declare containment,” said Maketa.