With winds beginning to swirl at this morning's 9 o'clock press conference, and with the scar from last year's Waldo Canyon Fire in the background, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa delivered the news that he estimates 80 to 100 homes have been destroyed in the Black Forest Fire, which sprang up yesterday afternoon around Shoup Road and Highway 83 and is zero percent contained as of this morning.
Additionally, he said the fire will move to the east and the south for some of the day, likely before doubling back over unspent fuel and exposing more homes to risk.
"Our intent is to let people know the status of their property, however it could change," said Maketa. "If the winds do double back on us, property that we identified as being salvaged or unaffected, it could very easily be consumed by the fire today. That fire is far from under control or extinguished."
So far, it's burned around 7,500 to 8,000 acres, affecting some 48 square miles. On the ground are 155 firefighting personnel, with support coming from as far away as Leadville. Maketa said his request to the state for six or seven additional strike teams could increase that number by 50 percent.
"Now, remember: We have four other fires burning in Colorado, and resources that are here locally are being strained on all four fires," said Maketa. "But at this point, I wouldn't reach out and say we're dying for firefighters or equipment.
"A lot of times it's the logistics of supplying those vehicles: The Black Forest area lacks fire-hydrant systems, and you're seeing the trucks go in and engage, and they'll quickly run through their water and then pull out to tankers that are parked and waiting."
Elsewhere, four bulldozers from Fort Carson will join the apparatus already digging lines, while soldiers from the National Guard are supporting law enforcement from Monument, Palmer Lake, the state patrol and, of course, the Colorado Springs Police Department. As far as aerial support, multiple helicopters are supporting ground crews, while C-130s loaded with Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFs) are expected to be deployed around 11 a.m.
El Paso County is creating a disaster-assistance center at the Citizens Service Center on Garden of the Gods Road, where clothes, food, shelter, communications providers and insurance companies will all base. As well, Rich Harvey, a familiar face, will be commanding the Type 1 Incident Management Team once it arrives.
There have also been no recorded injuries to first responders, or deaths of any citizens — so far.
"We had people that refused to leave," said Maketa. "We had people walking out at 2, 2:30 a.m. after the fire had blown through. I can't say that we've had it directly reported to us, but part of the assessment we're gonna 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. I know we had people stayed in there, and I do have concerns that we could be facing a tragedy that involves people. Let's hope it's not that case."
The next update will come at 5 p.m.