Update: The two victims of the Black Forest fire, which sparked to life on June 11, have been ID'd as Marc Allen Herklotz, 52, and Robin Lauran Herklotz, fifty, married residents of Black Forest. The laborious identification process speaks to the horrific force of nature that took their lives.
In the meantime, the fight against the destructive blaze continues to wind down, with containment estimated at 85 percent. But the number of homes confirmed destroyed is still going up, as is the cost of the effort.
The federal Inciweb.org page devoted to the fire supplements the 85 percent containment calculation with confirmation that the size of the fire -- 14,280 -- remains unchanged since yesterday.
Meanwhile, the page notes that "restrictions are in the process of being lifted in the Delta, Kilo and Whiskey divisions. Utility crews continue assessing and securing service to residences for future re-entry. El Paso County Sheriffs office continues to do assessments within the area and coordinate the reentry of residents. Excess resources are being released as incident objectives are being met. Resources continue to mop up and secure around structures to prevent further loss."
The sheriff's office assessments include cataloging those homes determined to be total losses. As noted by 9News, that sum has gone from 502 yesterday morning to the current number, 509. And authorities believe this digit will rise again before the fire is officially considered extinguished.
The end of the fire will come to late for Marc and Robin Herklotz, who were reportedly trying to flee the conflagration when it overtook them in their garage. EPCSO spokes Jeff Kramer points out that they were identified "through a cooperative effort between Forensic Odontologist Dr. Joe Gentile and El Paso County Coroner Dr. Robert Bux and his staff."
Both Mark and Robin were reportedly members of the Air Force Space Command at Schriever Air Force Base. The unit's commander, General William L. Shelton, released a statement about their passing that reads in part, "The men and women of Air Force Space Command are saddened by the loss of these two members of our AFSPC family. I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Marc and Robin during this very difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with you."
We echo these words.
As for the expense incurred while putting out the fire, it's now reached a staggering $8.5 million. And the meter hasn't stopped running.
Continue for our previous coverage of the Black Forest fire (and Royal Gorge fire), including photos, videos, documents and more. Update, 5:54 a.m. June 18: The Royal Gorge fire is now 100 percent contained, and El Paso County's Black Forest fire (see our previous coverage below) is closing in on that mark, with 75 percent containment. But yesterday brought a seeming contradiction: While no new structures were lost, the official number of homes destroyed rose from 483 to 502 thanks to better access in the fire zone. Meanwhile, the inquiry continues into how the fire started -- something that remains unknown at this writing, although it's thought to have been human-caused.
According to the federal Inciweb.org page's latest update, which went online late last night, the blaze's acreage is down, too, from an estimated 15,500 at this time on Monday morning to a current approximation of 14,280. The change is as a result of more accurate mapping.
The number of personnel battling the conflagration is lower as well, at 966 from well over a thousand. But the costs keep going up, from around $5.2 million 24 hours ago to a reported $5.5 million now.
The feds note that "American Red Cross Disaster Assistance Teams are doing assessments within the fire perimeter. Utility crews continue assessing and securing service to residences for future re-entry. El Paso County Sheriffs office continues to do assessments within the area. Excess resources are being released as incident objectives are being met. Resources continue to mop up and secure around structures to prevent further loss."
The evacuations began shortly after the fire sparked to life, mid-afternoon last Tuesday, June 11, and peaked on Friday, when the number of people forced from their homes reached 38,000. Most are now back, but a significant number -- 4.100 -- are still waiting from the all-clear from authorities.
However, that should come soon, as various agencies are on track to reach 100 percent containment of the fire by midnight Thursday, a mark set over the past day or so.
Here's the feds' planned actions for the day: "Continue to provide for life and safety as evacuations continue to be lifted. Locate and extinguish all hot spots while continuing perimeter control using direct attack as needed. Continue coordination with the utility companies, local/state/federal partners and El Paso County Sheriffs Office assessment team."
The starting point of the fire has still not been identified, 7News points out. Still, it's been narrowed down to what's described as the southwest corner of the burn zone -- and a person is thought to have gotten it going.
Was this act accidental or deliberate? El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa doesn't know yet. But his office is treating the area like a crime scene until a definitive conclusion is reached.
Here's the latest roster of homes burned by the fire. Right now, 502 are considered to be total losses, while eighteen were damaged. That's followed by our previous coverage.
Continue for our previous coverage of the Black Forest fire (and Royal Gorge fire), including photos and videos. Update, 5:55 a.m. June 17: Since the onset of the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires, we've used this post to provide updates on both; see our previous coverage below. So it's good news that after today, we'll be able to strike one off the list: The Royal Gorge fire is now 100 percent contained. Progress has also been made when it comes to the Black Forest fire, but at a terrible cost. Since our previous item, no new fatalities beyond the two confirmed thus far have been reported -- but more than 100 additional homes have burned, bringing the current total to a shocking record of 483.
Unlike Fremont County's Royal Gorge fire, which (according to its page on the federal Inciweb.org site) was declared 100 percent contained at 6 p.m. last night after scorching 3,218 acres, El Paso County's Black Forest fire still has some life in it. Inciweb currently estimates that the 15,500 acre fire is 55 percent contained -- although other reports put containment at closer to 65 percent.
The estimate for 100 percent containment is now midnight on Thursday, June 20.
Thanks to improving conditions, including some rain over the weekend, the El Paso County Sheriff's office was able to continue its structure and damage assessments, as well as lift evacuation bans in the following areas listed by Inciweb: "East to Meridian from County Line Rd. to Burgess, Highway 83 west to Sun Hills and Baptist Rd., Walker Rd. north to County Line Rd. and and Black Forest east to Highway 83."
In addition, Highway 83 has been reopened.
That said, plenty of people remain out of their homes. At 10:30 p.m. last night, the Colorado Spring Gazette quoted county officials as saying that 4,600 people are still under evacuation orders and another 15,700 live in what have been designated as pre-evacuation zones. The latter may have to flee at a moment's notice.
By the way, 7News puts the high point for evacuations at an incredible 38,000 people as of Friday.
Here's the assessment of Saturday's work on the fire lines from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office....
Fire behavior consisted of creeping, smoldering fire carried through timber litter, much the same as the previous twenty four hours. Yesterday's weather was calm with no thunderstorms or rain over the fire area. Firefighters were able to make good progress in building fireline to contain the fire, especially on its western flank. Suppression of hot spots continued to ensure that they do not flare up and re-threaten nearby structures.
...and this passage offers an outlook analysis:
A continuing threat exists to structures within the fire perimeter due to the potential for extreme fire behavior resulting from extremely dry fuels and potential winds from passing thunderstorms. Efforts will concentrate on locating and extinguishing hot spots throughout the fire with particular focus in areas near structures. A primary objective for the Incident Management Team is to return residents to evacuated areas as fire activities and conditions allow for the their safety. Utility companies are working in the burned area to secure gas and electricity for those residents who will be returning to their homes. The acreage burned has been revised due to more accurate mapping on the fire.
While there was no more loss of life over the weekend beyond the two people who were found dead in their garage last week, while apparently trying to escape the flames, the number of homes regarded as total losses has ballooned to 483 (from 379 on Thursday), with another seventeen listed as damaged.
Here's the latest accounting of home losses from the EPCSO. With luck, no more will be added to this fearsome roster.
Continue for our previous coverage of the Black Forest fire and Royal Gorge fire, including photos, videos and documents. Update, 5:55 a.m. June 14: When 2012's Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs destroyed 346 homes, many observers felt this record would stand for years to come. But it's lasted fewer than one. Due to the Black Forest fire, which started earlier this week northeast of the city, 379 homes are now total losses (see the complete list below). Worse, two lives have been lost. And as of this writing, there's no end in sight. Continue to get the latest as we head into day four of the blaze -- and also see an update on Fremont County's Royal Gorge fire.
Yesterday morning, a federal Great Basin Type 1 Incident Management Team took over management of the Black Forest fire, which started as a result of a thus-far-undetermined cause on Tuesday, June 11. Hence, there's now a page for it on the Inciweb.org site.
Right now, approximately 800 firefighters are battling with the blaze, which is said to consist of "active burning throughout the night within the perimeter" of the fire, which has stretched across more than 15,700 acres -- a bit smaller than the Waldo Canyon fire, which topped out just shy of 18,000. Moreover, the site notes that "there was a significant wind event at 3 a.m. that caused the fire to run," with active flames fed by ground fuels leading to tree torching.
Winds at the time of the latest update were estimated at thirty miles per hour, which only makes the task of trying to control the conflagration that much more difficult. Current containment is said to only be at about 5 percent.
As pointed out by the site, the wind-driven fire destroyed around 360 structures on its first day, thanks largely to winds of a similarly fierce nature. Immediate evacuation of thousands took place on Tuesday, and more have been moved out as the fire has grown. At this point, a total of more than ten thousand people have been forced to leave their homes.
The two people killed by the fire to date have yet to be identified. But El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa says they died in their garage, apparently in the midst of trying to evacuate.
A criminal investigation is also underway to determine the source of the fire. If there are clues that it was deliberately set, law enforcers haven't shared them.
Fortunately, the news is much better when it comes to the Royal Gorge fire. As that blaze's Inciweb page notes, evacuations have now been lifted in relation to the fire and Highway 50 has reopened. It's not dead yet: Containment is only at 40 percent. But firefighters appear to have the upper hand, and the size of the fire -- approximately 3,162 acres -- remains at about what it's been for several days. Moreover, the historic Royal Gorge Bridge seems to have survived the onslaught.
With luck, crews can finish up at Royal Gorge soon and join the campaign against the Black Forest fire -- the second disaster, natural or otherwise, to have shaken Colorado Springs in as many years.
Look below to see the list of homes destroyed to date. That's followed by our previous coverage.
Continue for our previous coverage on the Black Forest fire and Royal Gorge fire, including videos. Update, 6:01 a.m. June 13:The Denver metro-area is thick with smoke, and it's not alone. At this writing, much of Colorado is under a thick, acrid haze due to a series of wildfires that continue to burn in the region.
The destruction, and the disruption, is arguably fiercest when it comes to the Black Forest fire near Colorado Springs, where at least 92 homes are total losses, and Fremont County's Royal Gorge fire, in which twenty structures have been destroyed. Details, videos and more below.
At this time yesterday morning, the Black Forest fire was 7,500 to 8,000 acres in size and 0 percent contained, and while it hasn't mushroomed in scope, the blaze is growing: Current reports have it at 8,500-acres plus, but authorities believe better mapping will reveal that somewhere in the range of 11,000 to 12,000 acres have been consumed to date, with no end in sight.
Yesterday, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa made public a list of homes in the impacted area. We've got the complete document below, and as you can see, 92 of them are categorized as total losses, with another handful showing partial damage. Moreover, as of 3:30 a.m., Maketa's office was working on updating the roster, suggesting that homes will be added to it.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office Facebook page and EPCSO Twitter account remain the best places to get updated information. Here are the most recent posts, published within the past two hours or so:
Mandatory Evac Update Part 1: Due to dynamic changing conditions -- Hwy 83 east to Eastonville, Walker north to County Line #BlackForestFire
Mand. Evac. Update Part 2: Evac was completed utilizing foot patrol going door to door & geo cast early evening of 06/12/13 #BlackForestFire
Approximately 3,400 residences are in the evacuation zone, with thousands of residents affected. The damage is so sweeping that the EPSCO has started posting about places that haven't been burned, including The Pinery at Black Forest, an events center, and Edith Wolford Elementary.
Here's the evacuation parameters from El Paso County's website:
Mandatory Evacuations: Northern boundary is Walker Road/Evans Road, western boundary is Highway 83, east boundary is Eastonville Road, south boundary is Burgess Road/ Rex Road.
Preevacuation -- The following areas are now under preevacuation: The southern and eastern edges of the fire area:
NEW: at 9:30 -- PRE EVAC EXPANDED: I-25 east to Hwy 83, from Northgate Blvd to Hwy 105
Area 1 -- Burgess Road south to Stapelton Drive, and Vollmer Road east to Meridian Road.
Area 2 -- Latigo Blvd. south to Stapelton Drive, and Meridian Road east to Highway 24.
Area 3 -- Guy Ranch Road south to Stapelton Road, and Eastonville Road east to Elbert Road.
Area 4 -- Burgess Road south to Old Ranch Road and Poco Road, and Milam Road east to Vollmer Road.
The news is somewhat better when it comes to the Royal Gorge Fire, but not by much.
The latest update on the federal Inciweb.org site, posted late last night, estimates the blaze at 3,100 acres -- not substantially larger than it was yesterday -- and containment has risen to 20 percent.
In addition, the historic Royal Gorge Bridge -- the world's highest suspension bridge -- is said to be intact, although reports suggest that it may have sustained some damage. Likewise, at least twenty structures have been destroyed.
The fire's location is west of Cañon City, chewing through piñon and juniper forests with what the Inciweb item describes as "visible torching, spotting and running in heavy fuels" made fire-friendly by our recent blazing temperatures and gusty winds.
All road closures and evacuations west of Cañon City remain in place as firefighters "work to establish anchor points and build line around the fire." The details:
Highway 50 is closed in both directions from Soda Point to Highway 9. Temple Canyon road has also been closed.
The Arkansas River has been closed from Spike Buck through Canon City. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park has been evacuated.
While firefighters made good progress yesterday, they face plenty of challenges, including a Red Flag weather warning, plus downed power lines and plenty of beetle-killed trees in the path of the flames. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Here's the property list related to the Black Forest fire, followed by our previous coverage.
Continue for our previous coverage of the Black Forest fire and the Royal Gorge fire, including photos and videos. Original post, 6:04 a.m. June 12: Thanks to the blazing hot temperatures and accompanying winds that have visited Colorado in recent days, the conditions were ideal for wildfires.
And like clockwork, several broke out yesterday. Most are currently far from contained, let alone controlled.
Here's the latest about two of the most serious: the Black Forest fire in El Paso County and Fremont County's Royal Gorge fire.
An indication of how quickly conditions changed can be found on the El Paso County Sheriff Office's Facebook page -- which, along with the EPCSO Twitter account is currently the best way to get updated information about the blaze.
Sixteen hours ago at this writing, the Facebook page featured this post: "There are no current fires in southern El Paso County. The smoke/haze in the area is from fires burning in other states."
Then, just one hour later, came a revision of sorts, via two separate items. The first reads, "Sheriff's Office confirms wildland fire near 12600 block of Peregrine Way in Black Forest. This area is west of Black Forest Regional Park." The second notes, "Fire in Black Forest approx 15 acres, moving slowly, several fire crews on scene."
Soon, mandatory evacuations were in place -- "West to Tahosa, South to Shoup, East to Holmes and North to Fox Chase including all of Cathedrial Pines" -- with voluntary orders pending in nearby areas. These were soon expanded due to rapid growth of the conflagration. The most recent size guess from the EPCSO: "Estimated at 7,500-8,000 acres. 0% containment at this time."
That's not all. As reported by 9News, forty to sixty structures have already been lost.
Details about the Black Forest fire are not yet featured on the invaluable Inciweb.org site, which coordinates the latest about federal firefighting information across the United States (and is currently so overwhelmed by traffic that it's only working intermittently). However, the Royal Gorge fire already has its own Inciweb page, even though it only started at around 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon.
As of a few hours ago, the fire, which started south of the Royal Gorge Bridge, is mainly on the south side of the Arkansas River, with some spotting on the north side.
Approximate size: 3,800 acres -- and it's actively burning on privately held lands, as well as plots under the supervision of the state and the Bureau of Land Management.
The Inciweb report notes that mandatory evacuations are "in effect from Parkdale to the Canon City Water treatment plant, north of the Royal Gorge. U.S. Highway 50 is closed in both directions from the Canon City Water treatment plant (1st Street) to Highway 9. Temple Canyon road has also been closed." In addition, "The Arkansas River has been closed from Spike Buck through Canon City. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park has been evacuated." The historic bridge has not been damaged -- at least thus far.
Resources being deployed include 150 firefighters and assorted law-enforcement officers from federal and local departments, supplemented by two single-engine air tankers, one heavy air tanker and a Type 2 management team that will take jurisdiction of the fire today.
And the wildfire season is only just getting started.
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More from our News archive circa July 2012: "High Park fire update: Mishawaka Amphitheatre reopening symbol of blaze's defeat."