Colorado fires scorch the state, thousands are evacuated

Posted at 11:39 PM, Jun 11, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-12 08:16:27-04

By Ed Payne and Dave Alsup

(CNN) — Fast-moving wildfires lit up central Colorado, forcing thousands from their homes and scorching some 12,000 acres of brush and timber.

Of the five fires burning, the most problematic was the Black Forest Fire.

Tinder-dry conditions and gusty winds fueled the fire, just northeast of Colorado Springs, prompting mandatory evacuations over an area covering 24,000 acres and about 5,000 homes.

“Complacency is a dangerous gamble,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said. “Be prepared to leave and leave orderly.”

At least 7,500 acres had burned by late Tuesday.

Not everyone heeded the evacuation order, Maketa said. Others were having trouble getting out.

“We have some folks that were having difficulty,” he said. “We are focused on our elderly population that may have difficulty moving, and people trying to move animals out. It has gone from an evac to somewhat of a search and rescue.”

There have been no reported fatalities, he said, though a few dozen structures have burned.

More than 150 firefighters battled the blaze, backed by members of the National Guard. Air tankers and helicopters dropped water and flame retardant from the air.

“As you can tell, weather is not working with us right now,” Maketa said.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures were about 90 degrees Tuesday with winds gusting to 40 mph. The humidity level was in the single digits.

Wednesday’s forecast for fighting the blaze isn’t much better: upper 80s and wind gusts up to 30 mph.

Meanwhile, the rapidly growing Royal Gorge Fire grew to 3,800 acres by Tuesday evening, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management said. Three structures were confirmed lost.

CNN affiliate KKTV spoke to a farmer who lived close to the flames.

“I’m watching the flames just fly up the mountain, burst these dried trees and then die down,” the farmer said. The fire was moving away from his farm, he said, but he said that there wasn’t a lot of fuel for a fire because much of it had withered away.

The cause of both fires are under investigation, officials said.

Three smaller fires burned in other areas, totaling 250 acres:

— Big Meadows Fire: 100 acres

— Ox Cart Fire: 100 acres

— Lavita Fire: 50 acres

CNN’s Steve Almasy and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.

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