Evacuees flock to hotels

By: matt steiner matt.steiner@gazette.com
June 13, 2013 Updated: June 13, 2013 at 4:15 pm

As the Black Forest fire evacuation zones have grown, so has the number of evacuees looking for a comfortable bed.

Mandatory evacuations encroached into the city of Colorado Springs for the first time since the blaze began on Thursday. The city announced the new boundaries at about 1:30 p.m.

Hotels from areas around the burn area to regions as far as Woodland Park and southern Colorado Springs have seen an increasing number of evacuees using their businesses for refuge.

Alex Francis, manager of Hotel Elegante (formerly the Crowne Plaza) on South Circle Drive said by Wednesday afternoon, Elegante filled 40 more rooms and calls began to flood in from evacuees.

Francis said hotels further north near the Air Force Academy got most of the business early on, but hotels in that area began pointing potential guests south for shelter.

The Elegante manager expected his remaining rooms to fill before the weekend "during a week we were anticipating to be slow," he said.

Other hotels in south Colorado Springs have also seen an influx of evacuees.

The Holiday Inn Express near the Colorado Springs Airport has bent its rules and is allowing pets during what manager Sharon Creighton called "a devastating time" for evacuees.

"It is reminiscent of last year," Creighton said. "We have several families staying with us. We are doing all that we can to make them feel comfortable and helping assist in them finding out about their homes."

Both the Holiday Inn and Hotel Elegante are offering reduced rates for evacuees.

Ed Ellsworth, manager of the Hampton Inn & Suites near the Air Force Academy, was one of those hotel managers referring guests to southern options.

Ellsworth has had to turn several away because the Hampton Inn was already booked for most of the week.

The manager at Room at the Inn said several customers who had rooms booked began cancelling once the fire began.

Evacuees who have got rooms at the Hampton have been watching the blaze and re-evaluating the situation from day-to-day.

"A lot of the people who have been evacuated are staying a few days at a time, because of the uncertainty," he said.

Hotels as far away as Teller County have also had Black Forest fire evacuees show up.

The Country Lodge in Woodland Park has not had the barrage of business like some El Paso County hotels. But the lodge had at least five rooms filled with Black Forest residents seeking refuge, a hotel spokesperson said.

Many evacuees have opted to stay with family or friends who also live in the Pikes Peak region.

Jaenette and Kristian Coyne and their 20-month-old daughter were one of the first families to lose their home. The Coynes fled their house just after 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, watching it burn as they drove away.

The couple and their daughter are staying with Kristian Coyne's family in Colorado Springs. They had the nightmare of watching their home burn over and over again as they watched news reports Tuesday night.

Many other evacuees have piled into Red Cross shelters and moved RVs into Walmart parking lots along Woodmen Road in Colorado Springs and Falcon.

Larry Bowin took his family to the in a pair of motor homes to the Walmart just west of Powers Boulevard on Woodmen. Bowin evacuated late Tuesday afternoon before seeking refuge in what he called "a makeshift RV park."

As the mandatory evacuation lines expanded Thursday, the Red Cross opened another shelter at the UCCS Recreation Center. The organization already had shelters in place at Palmer Ridge High School and the Elbert County Fairgrounds.

The Red Cross and El Paso County officials were directing evacuees to the county's Citizen's Service Center at 1675 Garden of the Gods Road.

A Disaster Assistance Center was being set up on the first floor there with several agencies helping evacuees to find temporary and long-term housing options as well as other services.

The Apartment Association of Southern Colorado was one of those agencies. Laura Ruffman with the association said members began reviewing availability and potential discounts on rentals for evacuees.

Ruffman and her staff were referring evacuees to Apartments Etc. which was helping match people to appropriate accommodations. Apartments Etc. can be reached at 637-9449.

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