Aerial view of blackened areas that define the path of a wildfire that destroyed some homes and left others untouched in one neighborhood in the densely wooded Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado, 13 June 2013. Photo: John Wark / AP Photo

By Jenny Deam
13 June 2013

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (Los Angeles Times) – The Black Forest wildfire, still raging out of control, became deadly with the grim discovery Thursday of two people killed while apparently trying to flee their home.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the victims were found about 2 p.m. in their garage with the car doors open, probably trying to load belongings when the fire engulfed them. They are thought to have died sometime after 5 p.m. Tuesday as their neighborhood in Black Forest was being evacuated.

Maketa said the two victims had been reported missing after they could no longer be reached by phone. He said someone reported calling them about 4:20 p.m. and they said they could see an orange glow to the west and they were packing.

Forty minutes later they told the same caller they were about to leave. The caller later told authorities the sound of popping and cracking could be heard in the background.

The identities of the victims have not yet been released. "We were hoping to get through day to day without news like this," said a shaken Maketa at an afternoon news conference.

Although the cause of the massive, wind-whipped fire — now the most destructive in Colorado history — is not known, Maketa said the discovery of the bodies means the inquiry is "now a criminal investigation."

As the fire burned into its third day, it had devoured 15,700 acres — 24.5 square miles — and claimed 360 homes. Firefighters reported slight progress in some areas, and containment is now thought to be 5%.

But strong winds and hot, dry weather pushed the fire forward in other areas, and throughout the day the evacuation areas continued to expand, moving into two adjoining counties. By Thursday afternoon, about 39,000 people were under evacuation orders, including 1,000 within the Colorado Springs city limits. Previously, the evacuations had been limited to outlying areas.

Traffic throughout the city slowed to single-digit speeds as roads and highways became clogged with evacuees.

The number of houses destroyed had nearly quadrupled by Thursday from 92 the day before, but remained at 360 by the afternoon, offering another glimmer of hope. "I'm very hopeful we didn't lose any homes today," Maketa said.

The Black Forest fire, which was first reported about 1 p.m. Tuesday, moved into the record books early Thursday. Last year's Waldo Canyon fire — almost exactly a year ago and 10 miles to the west — had been the most destructive fire in state history, with 346 homes lost. The number of people evacuated in that fire, which roared into a densely populated subdivision and also killed two, was 32,000.

"I was here a year ago. This is another sad day in the Pikes Peak region," said Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach at Thursday's briefing.

Across the northern edges of the city, the fire continued to be the center of conversation. From convenience stores to fast food restaurants, the question was always the same: "Are you evacuated?" Then the inevitable: "Is your house OK?"

Many still do not know. Some watched the plume rising on the horizon and wondered what news the next day would bring. [more]

Black Forest fire claims two lives, sets Colorado records

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