It’s shaping up to be a particularly severe wildfire season in the west.
Officials said late Friday they’re beginning to turn the corner on a lethal outbreak in Colorado. Just over 36 hours after one of the fires began in the Black Forest region northeast of Colorado Springs, the lethal blaze had blackened 25 square miles.
Black Forest contains one of the largest contiguous stands of ponderosa pine in the nation. The land is highly prized for development and it’s dotted with million-dollar estates. But over the past few days many of those homes went up in smoke.
Lightning strikes, strong winds, and bone-dry conditions sparked several wildfires this week in parts of California, New Mexico, and Oregon. But the charring of Colorado has done the worst damage.
Called the most destructive wildfire in the rocky mountain state’s history, the blaze in Black Forest has claimed nearly 400 homes.
Thousands of residents have been evacuated and about 1,000 medium-security prison inmates have been transferred to other facilities to escape the inferno. The wildfires are threatening nearby Colorado Springs, the state’s second most populated city, and have also caused damage to the iconic Royal Gorge Bridge.
The fire in Black Forest is just one of several to break out this week in Colorado, where memories of wildfires in recent years have spurred residents to move quickly.
Tina Kuhlman / Evacuee:
"I think everybody’s afraid after the fires last year. I think people are getting out a little faster this year."
El Paso County Sheriff, Terry Maketa says that he’s concerned for some residents who may have ignored evacuation orders.
Sheriff Terry Maketa / El Paso County, Colorado:
"Part of the assessment we're going to be going through is verifying those locations where people did not evacuate and one of my worst fears is that people took their chances and it may have cost them their life."
Those fears may have been validated mid-week when the bodies of two residents who appeared to be fleeing were found in a garage.
This week’s Drought Monitor reveals large portions of Colorado and neighboring New Mexico are sweltering in extreme to exceptional drought. Arid conditions are expected to continue in the American West. And lightning strikes have ignited fires in the southwestern part of New Mexico – in a region that hasn’t been scorched by wildfires in decades.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper authorized more than $10 million to extinguish the flames in his state. And later in the week, authorities managed to battle the monster fire still combusting Colorado to some semblance of a “draw”.