Jun 13, 2013 11:35 AM by Patricia Collier
BLACK FOREST -The Black Forest fire burning north of Colorado Springs has now destroyed at least 360 homes and consumed 15,000 acres, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said at a news conference early Thursday. The list of homes that has been evaluated has been posted online and is updated whenever possible.
The evacuation area includes 94,000 acres and 13,000 homes as of Thursday morning. Some 38,000 people have been evacuated.
The fire was first reported Monday about 1 p.m. No cause has been established and there is no containment.
No injuries to residents or firefighters have been reported, although Maketa noted that there were reports of people who refused to evacuate. One person is reported to be missing.
Maketa said that efforts to check the address of the missing person have been hampered by the fire behavior.
No wildfire in Colorado history has destroyed more homes. The Waldo Canyon fire west of Colorado Springs in 2012 destroyed 347 homes.
The evacuation zone for the Black Forest fire was expanded early Thursday morning because of "dynamic changing conditions," the sheriff's office said.
Overnight, sheriff's deputies went door-to-door in the expanded evacuation area.
The zone now also includes Highway 83 east to Eastonville Road, and Walker Road north to South County Line Road, linking an Elbert County evacuation area to the original El Paso County evacuation area.
The evacuation area extends from Black Forest north into Elbert County. Some areas of Colorado Springs to the south are under a pre-evacuation notice.
Palmer Ridge High School has been designated an evacuation center; New Life Church, which was an evacuation center, is no longer being used because of heavy smoke. Large animals are being accepted at the El Paso County Fairgrounds, Elbert County Fairgrounds and Adams County Fairgrounds.
Wednesday afternoon Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order declaring a disaster emergency for the fire, "ordering $5.5 million from the Disaster Emergency Fund to pay for the fire suppression, response and recovery effort related to the fire since its inception," his office said in a news release.
The entire fire zone is within a red flag fire warning area posted Thursday by the National Weather Service.
The weather service warning, which starts at 11 a.m. and runs through 7 p.m., is prompted by gusty winds, low humidity, and dry fuels.
Winds this afternoon are expected to gust up to 35 mph and humidity levels will struggle to get out of single digits. Isolated thunderstorms with lightning are expected early Thursday afternoon, the weather service reports.
"Wind is our number one threat. It has been the game changer," Maketa said Thursday morning.
Firefighters may have to deal with extreme fire behavior Thursday, the weather service warns.
The weather forecast Thursday for the Black Forest area includes a 10 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1 p.m., with a high temperature of 83 degrees.
Photo credit: John Wark