Property loss from deadly Colorado wildfire grows to 379 homes destroyed

An aerial view of a destroyed house in the aftermath of the Black Forest Fire in Black Forest, Colorado June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
An aerial view of a destroyed house in the aftermath of the Black Forest Fire in Black Forest, Colorado June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Property losses from a deadly Colorado wildfire that ranks as the most destructive in state history rose on Friday to 379 homes destroyed as fire officials reported making overnight headway in containing the massive blaze.

The fire has roared across roughly 24 square miles of rolling, forested terrain northeast of Colorado Springs, the state’s second-largest city, since it erupted on Tuesday, forcing some 38,000 people to flee their homes.

“Last night was a success and was kind of that turning point that we’ve been looking for,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa told a morning news conference, adding that cloud cover and calmer winds helped the firefighting effort early on Friday.

Aerial photos of devastated areas showed large swaths of obliterated neighborhoods with bare, blackened trees and houses reduced to cinders and rubble.

A day after authorities recovered the bodies of two people killed while trying to flee the so-called Black Forest fire, Maketa and other officials gave a mostly upbeat assessment of progress made overnight in corralling the flames.

Firefighters with bulldozers managed to clear a new buffer between the western edge of the blaze and the city limits of Colorado Springs. But officials said evacuations ordered for the northern tip of the city and adjacent communities on its outskirts would remain in effect for the time being.

The official estimate for containment around the fire’s perimeter held at 5 percent, authorities said, until assessment teams have a chance to get a better view of gains they have made on the ground.

“Even though they feel confident of what they did last night, it’s hard to get that on a map,” incident commander Rich Harvey of the U.S. Forest Service said. “We didn’t lose anything last night. We gained something. We’re just not ready to quantify that.”

Maketa said an investigation into the two fire-related deaths as possible homicide did not necessarily mean authorities suspect arson.

“When I say homicide investigation, it’s because we have two deceased people (and) that means we investigate it as a crime until we prove otherwise,” he said.

On Thursday, authorities said 360 homes had been confirmed as total losses, surpassing the previous record of 346 dwellings destroyed last year on the northwestern fringe of Colorado Springs by the so-called Waldo Canyon fire, then deemed the most destructive blaze in state history.

The tally in the latest fire climbed by 19 homes on Friday, but Maketa said assessment teams still had nearly 5,000 homes in the fire zone to survey for damage.


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