by Pam Zubeck
Some homes that survived the first assault from the Black Forest Fire were wiped out today when winds shifted and caused the flames to double back over the large-lot subdivision, Sheriff Terry Maketa said during a 5 p.m. news briefing.
"We started at 4 a.m. driving down the streets and checking homes," he said. "But information is changing as we speak. The fire doubled back on homes that were standing [early this morning] but now are burning."
Though Maketa couldn't say with certainty how many homes have been destroyed, he announced that officials identified 92 homes earlier today. The best place to get information as it's updated is in a live document on the sheriff's website.
There have been no fatalities or injuries identified as of yet, but Maketa described a dangerous environment wherein multiple-story homes have caved in on themselves and remain on fire, making searches difficult, if not impossible.
Winds shifted to both the northwest and northeast through the day, but the size of the fire is still being pegged at 8,500 acres. Maketa predicted the fire could grow by 3,000 more acres in coming days. He declined to estimate whether there is any containment of the fire so far.
Up to 9,500 people have been affected, Maketa said, adding 3,400 homes and 150 commercial properties are at risk. He noted the National Guard is assisting with security, along with numerous law enforcement agencies in the state. The fighting force includes 487 firefighters from 28 fire districts, towns and cities, including Colorado Springs.
Springs Interim Fire Chief Tommy Smith said the Flying Horse subdivision within the city has been placed on voluntary evacuation, and six engines and a battalion chief are working to protect structures there. Dozens of other Springs firefighters on seven engines are battling the blaze. Total dedicated to the fire: 68, including eight who joined up with Black Forest Fire Protection District personnel on the district's equipment.
Maketa said officials are in planning stages to place areas west of Highway 83 under voluntary evacuation orders if necessary. He also noted that the Gleneagle subdivision is threatened.
The evacuated area is bounded by Walker Road on the north, Highway 83 on the west, Eastonville Road on the east and and area that lies south of Burgess Road.
Federal Type 1 Team Incident Commander Rich Harvey, who directed the Waldo Canyon Fire effort a year ago, arrived Wednesday with his second in command, Maketa said, but they're still awaiting the arrival of the rest of the team and additional resources.
Maketa said the fire will officially be passed from the federal Type 3 team to Harvey at 6 a.m. Thursday.
Already, Fort Carson has sent helicopters and air tankers from Peterson Air Force Base to fight the fire.
El Paso County will open services to those evacuated or who lost their homes at the Citizens Service Center, 1675 Garden of the Gods Road, tomorrow morning.
Meantime, six white trucks marked with "FIRE" in red letters, with a Mount Rushmore decal on the door and South Dakota plates were headed south of Colorado Springs on I-25 at 6 p.m. If they were headed for the Royal Gorge Fire near Canon City, it could be a signal that the two fires may compete for resources.