This year’s fire season arrived early with a small blaze April 7 off Colorado 115 near Cheyenne Mountain State Park, forcing residents west of Rock Creek Mesa Road out of their homes.

Residents of about 20 homes were forced to evacuate before firefighters brought the flames under control around 6 p.m. Residents were allowed to return by 6:30 p.m.

Billy Joe Stephenson and his niece were visiting his wife at UCHealth Memorial Central when he heard about the fire and rushed home. Smoke from the fire was reported just before 2 p.m.

Standing near Commanche and Pawnee roads, just outside the evacuation zone, Stephenson, 75, could see, but wasn’t allowed to go to his home of 42 years, a red house on Rock Creek Mesa Road.

Watching the smoky fire made him nervous, bringing back memories of his house burning down as a child in Louisiana. In that fire, “we lost everything,” he said.

“It’s no fun to lose everything you got, especially when you worked all your life for it,” Stephenson said. But the worst would be losing pictures and papers that couldn’t be replaced, he said.

Fort Carson officials initially said the blaze, dubbed the Pawnee fire, had burned 5 to 7 acres by late afternoon that day. That was later revised to 2.8 acres.

The Army post’s fire department battled the fire along with El Paso County and local fire departments. Firefighters expected to remain overnight for mopping up, officials said. The cause of the fire is unknown.

Residents on Pine Oaks and Rock Creek Mesa roads were ordered to evacuate as flames approached homes around 3 p.m. Residents of Cheyenne Mountain Estates, 8160 Piute Road, were put on pre-evacuation notice.

“Due to a fire south of the park we are denying access to the south side trails,” read a post on Cheyenne Mountain State Park’s Facebook page. “Please postpone visiting the park until we have a clear status on the fire.”

Although El Paso County was not under a red flag warning April 7, temperatures were above average for days.

The high temperature in Colorado Springs was 69 degrees at 2:40 p.m., but the day’s strongest wind speeds were in the early morning hours, said Randy Gray, a meteorological technician for the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

The fire danger increased in the early part of last week, with critical fire weather conditions Tuesday along the Interstate 25 corridor and the plains. Minimal rain and snow fell in Colorado Springs April 10.

The Gazette’s Jerilee Bennett contributed to this report.

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