by Pam Zubeck
The Black Forest Fire has attained the dubious distinction of becoming the most destructive fire in Colorado history with the announcement today that it's claimed 360 homes in the rural bedroom community north of Colorado Springs.
As of 6 a.m. today, local firefighting forces are under the command of Rich Harvey's federal Type 1 fire team who arrived yesterday from Nevada. The team took charge of a 15,000-acre Black Forest Fire, which is burning through private and El Paso County land, NOT federal forest land that Type 1 teams normally oversee.
That means the state of Colorado, not the federal government, will foot the bill for the fire, and Gov. John Hickenlooper has allocated $5 million for the fire. That amount could grow, however, if firefighting needs outpace that allocation.
El Paso County Administrator Jeff Greene explains in an interview:
Based upon the updates the chair of the board [of county commissioners] and I received last night at 6 p.m. when the type team was fully integrating in the process and assuming control of operations, which officially occurred at 6 a.m. this morning, it was clearly defined that this would be a program administered by the state of Colorado. The government came through. Funds have already been allocated. And all expenses will be submitted to the state of Colorado through coordination with El Paso County.
During the morning news briefing, Maketa called the number of destroyed homes, at 360 as of 9 a.m. this morning, "staggering" and "shocking" and said the total probably will climb. That's because deputies have had difficulty getting into the burn area due to rekindled fires, he said. He described how layers of fuels, including pine needles, grass and pine cones reignite when a burst of wind comes through.
"Things look pretty well calmed down," he said. "Then a gust comes and the next thing you know, it's raging."
Maketa termed the wind the number one threat facing firefighters as the fire enters its third day of high temperatures, low humidity and erratic winds.
Fort Carson has sent two Chinook and two Black Hawk helicopters, while the National Guard has provided three Black Hawks and one smaller Lakota to be used by the command team to survey the fire, said Lt. Col. Mitch Utterback, who's serving as the liaison to Harvey's team.
Schriever Air Force Base, Peterson AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and the Air Force Academy also have joined in the fire fight with engines and other assets.
The National Guard also is helping patrol evacuated areas, Maketa said.
In related news, County Commissioner Darryl Glenn announced that El Pomar Foundation has provided $250,000 to help those who have been displaced by the fire.
Maketa repeated what he said on Wednesday about containment, saying officials haven't reached a point where they can confidently say any portion of the fire has been contained.