6/13/13: Colorado Wildfire Forces Thousands to Evacuate

Colorado Firefighters
Black Forest Fire Dept. officers burned brush in an evacuated neighborhood, north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, ahead of the approaching Black Forest Fire. The erratic fire has forced the evacuation of thousands of people. Associated Press.

Nathan Koppel
The Wall Street Journal
Online: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Print: Thursday, June 13, 2013

Colorado authorities on Wednesday continued to battle a wildfire near Colorado Springs that erupted a day earlier, forcing at least 7,000 people to evacuate their homes.

The fire had consumed about 8,000 acres by Wednesday afternoon in a section of the Black Forest. The area is about 10 miles north of Colorado Springs, the state's second-largest city with around 426,000 residents.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa estimated at a news conference Wednesday that about 80 to 100 homes have been destroyed. While no fatalities had been reported, Mr. Maketa said he remained concerned about residents who had refused to evacuate their homes.

"One of my worst fears is that people may have taken chances and it may have cost them their lives," he said.

Authorities haven't yet pinpointed the cause of the fire, which is one of three now raging in Colorado, marking a troubling beginning to what is expected to be an unusually active wildfire season in many parched Western states, state and federal authorities said.

A separate fire ignited Tuesday near Cañon City, Colo., burning more than 3,000 acres and forcing the evacuation of nearby residents along with 900 inmates, who had been housed in a Cañon City jail.

The Black Forest blaze ignited almost a year after another wildfire, known as the Waldo Canyon fire, torched another area near Colorado Springs, killing two people and destroying about 350 homes.

"This could bring up some of the fear and trauma of what people felt last year," said Patricia Billinger, a spokeswoman with the American Red Cross, which has opened evacuation shelters in the Colorado Springs area.

Julie Bohatch, who was forced out of her home by the Black Forest fire, said she had been unaware of the threat until a neighbor called Tuesday afternoon.

"I walked outside and could see the smoke," said the 46-year-old mother of two. "Instantly, it brought back memories of the Waldo Canyon fire."

She said she and her husband quickly gathered their belongings and began a torturously slow drive to a Colorado Springs church where they took shelter Tuesday night.

"It took us an hour-and-a-half to drive six miles," she said. "The smoke was on our tail. My 10-year-old [daughter] was crying and terrified."

Ms. Bohatch said she moved to her home just a year ago, drawn by its tranquil setting amid towering pines.

"I would sit out on my porch in the morning and listen to beautiful herons," she said. "The thought it could be destroyed makes my heart sink."