Colorado wildfires could spread unpredictably in high winds, sheriff warns (+video)
7,000 people have been evacuated and 80 homes lost in a rural area northeast of Colorado Springs hit by the Black Forest fire, the most concerning of four wildfires burning in the state.
Record heat, low humidity, and high winds are a dangerous combination in Colorado this week, where four wildfires are now burning, including one that has already destroyed at least 80 homes.
The Black Forest fire, in a wooded rural area northeast of Colorado Springs – and not far from the site of last year's Waldo Canyon fire that destroyed nearly 350 homes and killed two people – is the most concerning, and has prompted the evacuation of more than 7,000 people in the area.
On Wednesday, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said he believes 80-100 homes have been lost, and there is currently no containment of the fire, which has burned about 12 square miles. Sheriff Maketa said he's worried that gusting winds predicted for Wednesday could cause the fire to spread unpredictably, and he compared the blaze to the Waldo Canyon fire.
"One of my worst fears is that people took their chances and it may have cost them their life," Maketa said, urging people to follow evacuation orders. There are currently no reports of anyone missing.
A smaller fire near Royal Gorge Bridge Park – about 60 miles southwest of Black Forest – was also burning Wednesday. It has already destroyed three structures, and forced the evacuation of more than 900 prisoners from a nearby correctional facility, due to concerns about the heavy smoke. That fire was also not contained.
A third fire, sparked by lighting, in Rocky Mountain National Park had grown to about 400 acres by Wednesday, but didn't threaten any structures.
And a fourth fire started Tuesday in Huerfano County, in southern Colorado. The Klikus fire prompted evacuation orders for about 200 homes and has burned about 60 acres. By Wednesday, it was 40 percent contained.
Though much of Colorado, especially in the northern part of the state, had a snowy, wet spring, it doesn't take long for forests to dry out and become virtual tinderboxes, say experts – and the conditions this week aren't helping. The National Weather Service warned that temperatures in the upper 90s, wind gusts over 40 miles per hour, and humidity in the single digits have combined to create "extreme" fire danger in parts of Colorado.