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Gazette Premium Content LIVE UPDATES: Number of homes declared total loss increased to 419

The Gazette - Updated: June 14, 2013 at 10:16 pm

LIVE UPDATES:

8:51 p.m.

The number of homes destroyed in the Black Forest fire has increased to 419, up from 400 reported earlier in the day, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said.

gazette.com will be updating the map of damaged homes as soon as possible.

Click here for the list.

8:42 p.m.

Mountain View Electric says most of the properties in the newly opened evacuation zone -- east of Meridian Road and north of Burgess Road as well as north of Walker Road and west of Black Forest Road -- didn't lose power.

"Any homes that lost power experienced that for less than two hours," the county said in a news release.

"Refrigerated and frozen items are safe when the power is off for no more than two hours," the release states.

8:20 p.m. The El Paso County Disaster Assistance Center has served 473 families in the past two days.

"The most frequent questions were about housing, insurance, utilities, replacing Social Security cards, Dumpsters for spoiled food, and pet food/shelters," the county said in a news release.

The center, in the county's Citizens Service Center, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We are pleased to see so many sectors of our community eager to assist families during these challenging times," county Commissioner Peggy Littleton said in a statement.

"Numerous families came to the Disaster Assistance Center with their dogs and cats the first day we opened," she said. "In addition to childcare, we now have pet care for animals while families are getting their needs met. When needs are identified, we are trying to get them addressed as quickly as possible. People are leaving feeling helped and hugged."

7:54 p.m. Meridian Road is still closed to through traffic, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said.

It's open only to residents, who must show identification to get in.

"In order to travel on there, you have to be able to show that you live at one of those addresses that runs off of Meridian or is actually on Meridian," county spokesman Dave Rose said.

"Only residents who have to access off of Meridian are allowed on Meridian because there's a lot of firefighter traffic on the road," he said.

7:27 p.m. The fire in the San Isabel National Forest has been downsized to three acres, the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office said. The Bureau of Land Management has dispatched a smoke jumper crew to fight the fire. "They will work through the night" on the fire, which is near Bell's Gulch, the sheriff's office said.

7:09 p.m. Hay donations are needed to feed the more than 100 horses that are being sheltered at the Norris-Penrose Event Center, 1045 Lower Gold Camp Road.

6:45 p.m. Firefighters are battling another blaze, this time in the San Isabel National Forest, the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office reports. Smoke from the estimated 6-acre blaze in a remote area can be seen from Pueblo. Crews are on their way to deal with the fire.

6:40 p.m. Northbound Interstate 25 between Woodmen Road and Interquest Parkway remains jammed in the evening commute as evacuees head back home.

6:21 p.m. Latest Saturday forecast for the Black Forest fire area from the National Weather Service: Highs in the 70s, winds 10-15 mph and scattered showers.

6:11 p.m. Sheriff's Office: Returning evacuees must have identfication to get past checkpoints.

6:05 p.m. About 8,000 El Paso County and Colorado Springs residents were allowed to return home this afternoon, reducing the number of evacuees from the Black Forest fire to about 33,000.

Traffic for returning evacuees is tangled. I-25 remains jammed. Many roads to access the recently-opened areas remain closed.

From the El Paso County Sheriff's Office via Twitter:

"Area east of Black Forest Road to Meridian Rd, north of Walker Rd is still MANDATORY evacuation.

Meridian Rd is still closed. Access through Eastonville Rd. only."

5:44 p.m. Sheriff Terry Maketa: "Some things finally turned in our favor and I think if you look at it as a fight, we got our tails kicked for a couple of days. I think yesterday, with the agreement of Rich Harvey, we saw it as a draw, and I think today we delivered some blows."

We've had some big changes to the evacuation map here's the latest: http://gazette.com/article/1502207

5:32 p.m. Incident commander Rich Harvey: "There are plenty of flames out there, there are plenty of firefighters. We're trying to get the two to meet as quickly as possible."

5:27 p.m. Sheriff Terry Maketa says tips flowing in on what caused fire. No cause released.

5:22 p.m.

Numbers:

Acres burned: 15,700

Lives lost: 2

Homes lost: 400

Containment: 30 percent

Number of firefighters: More than 800

5:20 p.m. Black Forest Fire Chief describes first day of fire: "It had us for lunch."

"I wish we could have done more, but we couldn't."

5:15 p.m. Fire is now 30 percent contained.

Evacuations lifted today:

El Paso County:

All residents west of Highway 83 can return.
Those east of Meridian Road can return.

Elbert County:

Those north of Smith Road can return.

Douglas County:

All pre-evacuation orders lifted.

Incident Commander Rich Harvey: "Today we had no real problems on the fire."

5:13 p.m.

Sheriff Terry Maketa: "The rain made a tremendous impact. Some things finally turned in our favor."

4:58 p.m. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has increased the number of homes destroyed in the Black Forest fire to 400. So far, officials have checked on 2,512 homes in the burn area.

4:55 p.m. Next official update due at 5 p.m.

From reporter Linda Navarro: "The Community Animal Recovery Team at Norris-Penrose needs grass hay desperately. They have alfalfa but need grass hay because they have a lot of pasture horses at that evac center. They have 100 horses whose owners are under evacuation."

 4:45 p.m. More National Guard help is on the way. Wyoming and Nebraska will each send a Blackhawk helicopter to help douse the Black Forest fire.

4:35 p.m. If you're thinking about hitting I-25, you'll want to hold off. The interstate is jammed from Garden of the Gods through Monument.

From reporter Andrea Sinclair: Standing under an umbrella, Gov. John Hickenlooper said seeing rain over Colorado Springs was "the happiest I've been in several days."

Hickenlooper called first responders and volunteers true heroes at the Pikes Peak Community College Rampart Campus Friday, a quick stop in a tour of recent wildfire sites and evacuee shelters around the state.

Hickenlooper praised the combined efforts of city, county, state and military officials in response to the Black Forest fire.

"This time we were all 10 times more prepared than last year," he said. "Just a week ago representatives were meeting to talk about fire drills, scenarios, what and could happen."

After seeing the devastation from the Royal Gorge and Black Forest fires, Hickenlooper said he noticed the homes that seemed to be salvaged were the ones whose owners had heeded officials' advise for fire mitigation.

When asked if he would consider imposing tougher fire restrictions, Hickenlooper said there were considerations.

"I know this is the season people want to be outside, but everyone has to be careful," he stressed. "Use stone-lined fire pits, extinguish everything completely, clear brush and debris from your house."

Going from place to place, witnessing the wildfires' destruction was tough, Hickenlooper said, adding his trust in El Paso County's strength.

"This is a resilient county, a resilient state, a strong community. We will rebuild."

4:30 p.m. We're waiting on information on re-entry checkpoints for residents west of Highway 83. Residents will be asked to show ID to get back home.

4:20 p.m. Here's a run-down of the county's evacuations:

Mandatory Evacuations: Highway  83 east to Eastonville Road, from the El Paso County Line south to Burgess Road and Rex Road.

Preevacuation -

I-25 east to Hwy 83, from Northgate Blvd to Hwy 105.

North Gate and Old North Gate Road south to Interquest Parkway, and Voyager Parkway east to highway 83.

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.

 

4:15 p.m. Mandatory evacuations west of Highway 83 are lifted. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is establishing re-entry checkpoints and will check identfication on returning residents.

4 p.m. Updated evacuation map: http://gazette.com/article/1502207

3:50 p.m. A smiling U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet stood in the rain for a Black Forest fire news conference. "We need more of this," he said while holding his hands skyward.

He said he saw "a driving rain" over the burn area during a tour.

3:40 p.m. The change in the city's evacuation order means that residents of Flying Horse can head home. They remain under voluntary evacuation status and could be asked to flee again at any time. Earlier mandatory evacuation orders remain in place.

A run down on evacuations:

Pre-evacuation order: Pack, plan and find a place to go.

Voluntary evacuation: Evacuation order could come at any time. Heading out is a good idea.

Mandatory evacuation: Leave now and don't come back until the order is lifted.

3:32 p.m. Mandatory evacuation in city of Colorado Springs lifted.

Here's the news release:

"City officials have lifted all Mandatory Evacuation Orders for Colorado Springs EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. Following are the boundaries for the remaining Voluntary Evacuation Zone:

New Voluntary Evacuation Area: Northern Boundary: North Gate and Old North Gate Road – Southern Boundary: Interquest Parkway – Eastern Boundary: Highway 83 – Western Boundary: Voyager Parkway."

3:30 p.m. Updated maps:
Hot spots: http://gazette.com/article/1502261

Homes destroyed: http://gazette.com/article/1502313

3:23 p.m.
The Black Forest fire has burned an annual tradition the Pikes Peak range Riders will not head out for their annual jaunt on June 19th due to the fire. here's a news release:

"In view of the worst fire in Colorado history currently raging in a large part of our community, the Pikes Peak Range Riders Board of Directors has decided to cancel the 2013 Range Ride. Pikes Peak Range Rider President, Ted Severn stated: “We believe that our presence at home; and our continued support to the community, and to our members and friends is a far better use of our time and resources this next week”. This is only the second time in the history of the Range Ride, which started in 1949, that the ride has been canceled; the 2002 ride was canceled due to the Hayman Fire.

The Colorado Springs Street Breakfast will be, as scheduled, on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 from 5:30-9:00AM at the corner of Pikes Peak and Tejon. The money raised from the Colorado Springs Street Breakfast stays right here in the Colorado Springs area and is donated to various aide agencies at Fort Carson for families and soldiers. This money is specifically earmarked as a charitable contribution to Fort Carson’s social services programs. In addition to funding our local military charities, the Pikes Peak Range Riders will be raising funds for those impacted by the Black Forest Fire."

 

3:15 p.m. National Weather Service Radar shows heavy rain over Black Forest Fire, more rain on way.

http://1.usa.gov/5xYQj

3:10 p.m. Gov. John Hickenlooper is on his way to the Rampart Range campus of Pikes Peak Community College.

3 p.m. A common sentiment on Twitter at this hour: "This storm is proof that God does answer prayers #blackforestfire"

Firefighters report issues with lightning and wind, but rain is helping efforts.


2:50 p.m.
From Monument's state Rep. Amy Stephens via Facebook: "Meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. at Palmer Ridge High School. This will be informational regarding the Black Forest Fire. Commissioner Glenn, Commissioner Littleton, Senator Lambert and I will be there."

2:45 p.m. Some numbers:

Containment: 5 percent
Deaths / injuries: 2 deaths / 0 injuries
Acres burned: 15,700
Homes burned: 389 destroyed
People evacuated: 41,000 people
Homes evacuated: 14,000
Evacuation area: 55 square miles.
Firefighters on scene: 800 estimated

Overheard on the scanner: "We're seeing lightning and wind up here. I sure hope these clouds hold out."

Lightning-caused grass fire reported near North Gate Boulevard and Interstate 25. Colorado Springs police report that drivers are stopping on I-25 and getting out of their cars to stomp out the fire.

2:35 p.m. From Jeff Bohn at Peterson Air Force Base via Facebook: "So in the command post we came up with a plan. We are all getting our cars washed today and then leave the windows rolled down this afternoon. We will get rain for sure."

2:30 p.m. From reporter Garrison Wells: Message scribbled in large letters on the rear window of a car in driving in Security area.
"Thanks police and firefighters."

Meanwhile, traffic is snarled on northbound Interstate 25 from Woodmen Road to Interquest Parkway.

2:25 p.m. From New Life Church Pastor Brady Boyd via Twitter: "It is raining on the Palmer Divide, headed over the northern edge of the #BlackForestFire"

2:20 p.m. From the scanner: Residents on Rangely Drive, just west of the Black Forest fire mandatory evacuation zone have doused a small lightning-caused grass fire.

Lightning strikes over northern El Paso County can be seen from downtown Colorado Springs.

2:12 p.m.

Multiple tweets under the hashtag #blackforestfire have been written by people who have been washing cars and hoping it will bring rain over the burn area.

The superstitious, yet optimistic, attempt to help was likely prompted by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa's comments during the 9 a.m. press briefing on Friday. In the sheriff's attempt to lighten the mood, he told everyone to not only wash their cars, but to also park them outside in an exposed place.

1:55 p.m.:

Firefighters from the 21st Space Wing responded to a request for mutual aid from the Cimarron Hills Fire Department and assisted in a car fire that took place off of the installation on Space Village Road early afternoon Friday.  The fire was quickly extinguished and there were no injuries.

Peterson AFB firefighters commonly assist off base fire departments by providing professional response in life saving measures.

1:40 p.m.:

As afternoon arrives Friday, winds, heat and the possibility of thunderstorms over the burn area are expected to increase. Firefighters could be entering a pivotal few hours.

Sheriff Terry Maketa and incident commander Rich Harvey talked of a possible turning point at the morning press briefing. Harvey spoke with cautious optimism, however, when asked if containment had increased overnight.

He said officials were not ready to quantify Thursday night's successes, but were waiting "to get some heat, wind and sunlight on it" before totally accessing the progress.

In June 2012 during the Waldo Canyon fire, officials also thought significant progress was being made.

Then during the late afternoon hours of June 26, the storms came and winds unexpectedly gusted to more than 50 mph. The fire pushed down the mountains west of Colorado Springs and homes began to burn.

In an interview earlier Friday, Harvey told KOAA that the possibility of unexpected, turbulent weather looms even now. He reiterated that what happens Friday afternoon could determine the future of the fire.

1:24 p.m.:

The Gazette updated its map of homes destroyed in the Black Forest fire. Click on the link to see the latest.

http://gazette.com/article/1502250

1:18 p.m.:

The National Weather Service said isolated showers and thunderstorms are possible Friday afternoon in the Black Forest burn area.

Highs are expected to reach about 82 degrees with winds out of the south and southeast blowing at about 10 to 15 mph.

1:05 p.m.:

Ten more destroyed homes have been added to the total for the Black Forest fire.

The Sheriff's Office just updated its tall, increasing it to 389. Here's the link:

http://www.epcsheriff.com/bff/Black%20Forest%20Fire%20-%20Residences.pdf

Also, The Gazette is updating its map of destroyed homes. It will be fully updated within a half hour.

12:55 p.m.:

Maps and info for the Black Forest fire were updated in the last hour on Inciweb's website.

Click here for inciweb.org

12:40 p.m.:

The Gazette's Rich Laden warned that people waiting for escorts into evacuated areas could have longer waits than expected.

Laden was told at 12:10 p.m. that he would have to wait about 35 minutes for an escort into the Latigo Trails subdivision east of Meridian Road. He said a woman also waiting told him she had been there for two hours.

12:35 p.m.:

Gazette reporter Erin Prater compiled one-stop resource containing "critical information for evacuees." Click here for the helpful guide.

12:05 p.m.:

People impacted by the Black Forest fire can get free Tetanus vaccine vouchers at the county's Disaster Assistance Center. The center is on the first floor of the Citizens Service Center at 1675 Garden of the Gods Rd.

12 p.m.:

Care and Share said just before noon Friday that their current inventory of 68,454 pounds of food and beverages will only last two days at the current rate of distribution.

The organization is extending its food drive to include hours on Saturday and Sunday and through Friday June 21. The most needed food items are canned and boxed meals and snack items.

Food can be dropped off at the Colorado Springs office at 2605 Preamble Point.

For a complete list of needs go to careandshare.org.

11:42 a.m.:

The community meeting scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. has been moved to Palmer Ridge High School, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office announced.

11:30 a.m.:

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa told the Denver Post "I'm pretty confident that natural causes will be out the window."
 If the fire was human-caused, it remains to be seen whether it was accidental or not.

Also, check out this Denver Post video of aerial views of the Black Forest Fire. The video was posted Thursday night. Here is the link:

http://photos.denverpost.com/2013/06/13/video-aerial-views-of-the-black-forest-fire/

11:15 a.m.:

The U.S. Postal service announced some temporary changes in mail delivery because of the Black Forest fire.

Black Forest mail is being held at the Briargate Post Office at 8585 Criterion Drive. The phone number is 719-265-4409.

More than 2,700 addresses in Monument, zip code 80132 will not receive delivery on Friday. Mail for those living east of Interstate 25 and south of State Highway 105 will be held at the Monument Post Office and can be picked up at 543 3rd St.

Nearly all of zip code 80908 in Colorado Springs - about 5,950 customers - has been suspended.

10:30 a.m.:
Cheyenne Mountain Resort will be reaching out to firefighters and first responders Friday night, giving them a hearty bite to eat.

The resort is donating 500 meals for those working the Black Forest fire. On the menu is pasta dishes, garlic bread, cookies and brownies.

10:25 a.m.:
The Red Cross released their shelter occupancy numbers for Thursday night.

Palmer Ridge High School: 79 people stayed the night

Elbert County Fairgrounds: 148 people

UCCS Recreation Center: 7 people

9:15 a.m.:
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said firefighters may have "turned a corner" in the battle with the Black Forest fire, which has killed two people and destroyed 379 homes in unincoporated community on the north border of Colorado Springs.

Calm winds contributed to more favorable conditions that slowed the rapid spread of the fire, which has burned 13,000 to 15,000 acres heavily wooded with pine trees that gave the community its name.

Containment remained steady at 5 percent overnight even though officials believed they didn't lose any ground and actually made gains.

The erratic behavior of the fire, whipped by strong, gusting winds the previous three days, led to the evacuation of at least 38,000 people in the area.

"We gained some tremendous ground," Maketa said of activity overnight by firefighters working to stomp out hot spots and protect homes and other structures within the fire zone. "What I witnessed was very encouraging compared to the previous nights."

Incident commander Rich Harvey echoed that sentiment, saying firefighters "had a good night" in taming the fire.

However, he was more reserved in his assessment saying he didn't know if firefighters had turned the corner "but the corner isn't too far away."

But  Harvey agreed firefighters have had some victories.

“We gained something," Harvey said. "We’re just not ready to quantify it. We want to get heat and sunlight on it before we make another assessment.”

The gains were made because firefighters went on the offensive overnight.

“They were busier than you-know-what last night,” Harvey said.

Clearly, the most success has come on the perimeter of the forest where the fuel changes from pine trees to grass.

 “Everywhere it’s grass, we are winning,” Harvey said.

Both were buoyed by what they saw overnight.

"We did not lose large chunks of land last night," Maketa said. "I felt that was pretty encouraging."

El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn announced a community meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Lewis Palmer High School Auditorium in Monument.

Maketa said homeowners in the affected area to watch the sheriff's website http://shr.elpasoco.com/ and click on the link for the "Initial Home Assessment" to get the latest news on whether their homes are destroyed or damaged. He said his assessment team would make it a priority Friday to complete its survey of 7,000 homes in the fire zone and update the list.

Maketa said his deputies were investigating the fire as a homicide case, due to the two deaths discovered Thursday of a couple trying to flee their home. But he cautioned that it didn't mean that officials believe the fire was an arson case.

"We treat it as though it’s a crime until we prove otherwise," Maketa said. "That does not imply anything. We are going to investigate, draw conclusions based on facts."

To that end, he has created a tip line for folks to call: 719-444-8393.

"It is staffed right now," he said, adding that anyone with photos that might provide clues to the origin of the fire can send them to an email:  blackforestfiretipline@elpasoco.com

The Black Forest fire, which erupted around 1 p.m. Tuesday, ranks as the worst in Colorado history in terms of structures destroyed, exceeding the Waldo Canyon fire that killed two people and burned 347 homes last June in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs.

Maketa said after the briefing that his team was developing a plan for letting people back in their homes.

"A lot of it depends on what happens today with the fire and what happens with the line," he said.

They made their comments at a media briefing at the Pikes Peak Community College’s Rampart Range campus, which is within an evacuation zone of the fire.

8:50 a.m.: Colorado Springs is considered a military community, for good reason with Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy and assorted air force bases.

The military presence is even greater as the Army, Air Force and National Guard help fight the Black Forest fire.

Here’s a roundup of what the various bases are contributing to the effort to stomp out the wildfire:

U.S. Air Force Academy:
- Five trucks and 16 firefighters (Two structure engines, one brush truck, one water tender, one command vehicle)
- Support to the incident management team
- Emergency Family Assistance Control Center for DoD personnel
Peterson Air Force Base & Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station:
- Two – Type 1 (structure) pumpers
- Two support trucks
- 13 firefighters
- Shelter for Department of Defense personnel on Peterson AFB

Buckley Air Force Base:
- 5,000 gallon water tender + two person crew
Fort Carson:  
- Two Type 6 (brush truck) and three water tenders with 9 personnel
- Two CH47 with bambi buckets
- Two UH60 with bambi buckets
- Four D-7 bulldozers on the scene cutting firebreaks on the north side of the fire
- Shelter for Department of Defense personnel on Fort Carson  
- Refueling point for military helicopters at USAFA (operated by Ft Carson & serving both active and National Guard helicopters)
- Tactical Command Post at the Incident Command
- Forward Air Traffic Controllers
- Command and Control aircraft for the Incident Commander

302nd Airlift Wing:
- Two C-130 aircraft equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS)
- These two aircraft and their crew have flown a combined 12.1 hours, conducted 14 air drops and released more than 37,500 gallons of retardant to date.
- Aircraft operating as the 731st EAS

Colorado National Guard:
- 120 personnel at 17 security checkpoints in Black Forest area
- 20 personnel providing various types of assistance at the incident
- National Guard Communications Element (4-personnel)
- High-clearance trucks and water tenders (5 vehicles; 14 personnel)
- 3 UH-60s with bambi buckets have dropped over 110,000 gallons to date
- 1 LUH-72 Lakota helicopter equipped for aerial firefighting coordination

Military installations are providing residential firefighting engines and crews to allow additional local personnel to respond to the fire.  That support includes:
•    An engine and crew from Fort Carson to Colorado Springs Fire Department
•    An engine and crew from Schriever AFB to Ellicott Fire Department
•    An engine and crew from F.E. Warren AFB to Peterson AFB

8:45 a.m.: No Meals Ready to Eat for the troops today.

The Cheyenne Mountain Resort is donating 500 meals to crews fighting the Black Forest fire today.

General Manager Todd Felsen said the meals will include pasta, garlic bread, brownies and cookies.

“We are a part of this community and want to help as much as possible,” Felsen said.

The American Red Cross is coordinating the lunch.
8:24 a.m.: Reports of looting around the Black Forest fire zone are not supported by police in the area.

Both the Monument Police Department and Colorado Springs Police told The Gazette this morning that as of 6 a.m., they received no reports of looting in or around the Black Forest Fire.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

8:20 a.m.: The folks at the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region continue to welcome evacuees, frontline responders and residents without air conditioning and who are unable to open windows at no charge on Friday, June 14.

Evacuees and first responders are welcome at the eight YMCA indoor Family and Recreation Centers: Tri-Lakes, Briargate, Garden Ranch, Downtown, Southeast, Fountain Valley and the Cottonwood Creek and Memorial Park Recreation Centers.

Find more information at the Y's website www.ppymca.org

8:05 a.m.: We're less than an hour away from our morning briefing on the Black Forest fire.

As we await the latest news, here are some other numbers to consider. The Modular Airborne FireFighting System, aka MAFFS, released these statistics for their efforts to date against the fire that erupted Tuesday.

Their two C-130 military cargo planes from the 302 Airlift Wing made eight drops Thursday. They deposited 11,866 gallons of flame retardant on the blaze.

In two days of flying, they have made 14 total drops, painting fire lines with 37,529 gallons of retardant.

7:45 a.m.:

Containment: 5 percent
Deaths / injuries: 2 deaths / 0 injuries
Acres burned: 15,700
Homes burned: 379 destroyed / 9 damaged
People evacuated: 41,000 people
Homes evacuated: 14,000
Evacuation area: 55 square miles.
Firefighters on scene: 800 estimated

Cause: Undetermined

7:30 a.m.: In case you missed it last night, the El Paso County Sheriff's office released an updated list of houses within the Black Forest fire burn zone.

The new assessment found 379 houses destroyed and another nine damaged.

To read the list for yourself, follow this link: http://www.epcsheriff.com/bff/Black%20Forest%20Fire%20-%20Residences.pdf

7:18 a.m.: The Gazette's Jesse Paul is on the scene at the Black Forest fire this morning and reports the sun is just starting to peel through thick cloud cover. The air is much cleaner today and he can’t smell smoke.

He was in Flying Horse Thursday and everything was fine. Today, he was stopped west of the evacuation zone.

Unlike previous days, he only found one person camped out in a recreational vehicle this neighborhood. People are trying to find anywhere to go.

Jesse reports it is bizarre to see everything so quiet with homes and businesses evacuated.

At the roadblocks on the evacuation zone perimeter, Jesse is again finding people talking with police. One man was trying to get through. Scanner traffic confirms this is fairly common again as folks are seeking police escorts back to their homes to retrieve medicine or other items they left behind as they evacuated Thursday.

7:08 a.m.: El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said he hopes to have a tip line established today to help investigators determine how the Black Forest fire started.

“We have people wanting to provide photos of where the original smoke was located, and so we want to make sure we have everything in place to start collecting and the people in place to start sorting through that data and forwarding what is really necessary directly to the arson investigators so they can follow up on it, and at least salvage whatever evidence is provided to us,” Maketa said.

His deputies are approaching it as a homicide investigation after two people were found dead inside the burn zone on Wednesday. The couple died trying to escape the blaze, Maketa said in an interview with 9NEWS in Denver and broadcast by our partners at KOAA TV5.

"We will treat it as a crime scene and investigate it that way until we prove otherwise,” Maketa said.

Maketa said the discovery of fatalities muted good news of progress made fighting the fire, which erupted Tuesday in the unincorporated community on the northern edge of Colorado Springs.

Since it erupted around 1 p.m. that day, it has burned 15,700 acres, destroyed at least 379 homes, damaged another 9 houses and forced the evacuation of 41,000 people.

Maketa said he believes firefighters made huge strides Thursday despite "red flag" weather conditions that saw gusting, swirling winds, hot temperatures and low humidity which typically contributes to rapid fire growth.

"Yesterday was a swing day," Maketa said. "And we're turning a corner.

"We had many successes."

He said crews were able to hold fire lines and focus on structure protection.

Overnight, Maketa said, crews lost few homes, if any.

"Maybe one or two," Maketa said.

A formal news briefing is expected at 9 a.m. at the media center at the Pikes Peak Community College's Rampart Range campus.

6:35 a.m.:
Want to read the official word on the Black Forest fire and other major Colorado fires for yourself?

Get online at InciWeb at http://www.inciweb.org/incident/3424/ read the reports and see the maps.

The three major fires in the state, Black Forest, Royal Gorge and Big Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park, all are tracked at InciWeb at http://www.inciweb.org/state/6/

The website gives many details of the fire, its behavior, the fuels being burned and a precise outlook for the day. It's not updated more than about once a day.

6:15 a.m.: Isolated afternoon thunderstorms in the Colorado Springs region could complicate efforts by 750 firefighters to tame the raging Black Forest fire.

The National Weather Service warns that storms could develop around noon and the threat of lightning and high gusting winds will exist into the evening.

In fact, those winds could gust into the 40-50 mph range, creating havoc on the fire line. Even worse, the storms are not expected to produce any significant rain, which might help smother the three-day-old blaze, which has killed two, destroyed 379 homes and forced the evacuation of 38,000 people in El Paso County and northern Colorado Springs.

"If you get these thunderstorms that go up with high cloud bases, you get a lot of wind out and not much precipitation," said Kyle Mozley, a meteorologist with the weather service in Pueblo. "They are going to be pretty isolated in nature -- probably aroundo 10 percent chance. But if they do hit the burn scar, there is that wind concern."

Otherwise, the forecast for Friday is an improvement over the past three days. Mozley reports that humidity levels are upwards of 30 percent humdity and winds this morning are variable and light.

Conditions should be favorable for firefighters trying to stomp out the fire, compared to the "red flag" warnings that dominated the week with record heat, strong winds and extremely low humidity.

Afternoon highs will be in the upper 80s to low 90s with humidity staying around 15 percent, the weather service said.

6:05 a.m.: A new assessment of damage caused by the Black Forest fire saw the total of destroyed homes climb to 379 in the unincorporated community on the northern edge of Colorado Springs.

Here's a look at the fire, by the numbers:

Containment: 5 percent
Deaths / injuries: 2 deaths / 0 injuries
Acres burned: 15,700
Homes burned: 379 destroyed / 9 damaged
People evacuated: 41,000 people
Homes evacuated: 14,000
Evacuation area: 55 square miles.
Firefighters on scene: 800 estimated

Cause: Undetermined

5:40 a.m.: El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa told the Today show his agency is investigating the deaths of two people in the Black Forest fire as homicides.

"That's absolutely how we'll be pursuing it," Maketa told the NBC morning show according to its Denver affiliate 9News.

Maketa told the show that his deputies are collecting information and data so that arson investigators have the best shot of pursuing criminal charges, if warranted.

The remains of two people, believed to be a couple, were discovered Thursday in their garage, the car packed and ready to flee from the raging Black Forest fire.

"The car doors were open as though they were loading or grabbing last-minute things, and all indications are from the evidence on scene that they were planning to depart very quickly," Maketa said.

The sheriff said Thursday a criminal investigation has been launched. But his remarks to the Today show were more detailed regarding the possibility that arson is responsible for the fire, which has destroyed 379 homes, damaged 9 and forced the evacuation of 38,000 people in the county and Colorado Springs.

The fire is consideired just 5 percent contained.

 

2:15 a.m. Friday winds for the Black Forest fire area will come from the west and southwest and pick up by the afternoon to fall between 10-15 mph, with a couple gusts near 20 mph, much less than the gusts reaching past 30 mph Thursday, according to the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

Overnight Thursday, the area remained in the 70s. Black Forest is expected to see a high around 90 degrees Friday.

There is a chance again for afternoon thunderstorms, though it will be higher in the atmosphere with wind, lightning and little precipitation. A cell might produce a really brief shower, though wind differences remain the largest day-to-day change.

1:10 a.m. Updated numbers from El Paso County Sheriff's Office

1,813 homes appear unaffected

9 homes damaged

379 homes lost - 19 more than reported at the Thursday evening briefing

1:05 a.m. There were not a whole lot of fire reports coming into the Joint Information Center late Thursday and into early Friday, which may mean that the fire is more stable, said Jacqueline Kirby, joint information manager.

"Hopefully we will see a lot of progress when we get the morning reports," she said, adding that fire crews try to make as much progress as possible in the dark because of cooler temperatures and calmer winds.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office released an updated as of 10 p.m. home assessment list around 12:20 a.m. There are seven crews dedicated to property assessment in the burn area, Kirby said. They continue to go through checking property and expect another updated list early Friday.

12:35 a.m. El Paso County Sheriff's office released an updated list of homes hit in the fire. They now say 379 are lost. The entire list has been updated and can be viewed here, and officials say to refresh until the chart appears.

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