The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 13, 2013

Thousands flee Colo. wildfire; 92 homes destroyed

Eds: New Approach. An HTML map locating active wildfires across the nation is available in the /interactives/2013/wildfires folder. AP Video. With AP Photos.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Jaenette Coyne estimates she had five minutes to leave home after calling 911 to report forest fire smoke behind her home.

There was no time to grab wedding albums, fingerprint artwork by her 20-month-old daughter, quilts her grandmother made, her family's three cats.

"We left with nothing," she said.

She and her husband later watched on television this week as flames engulfed their house.

"I don't know how to tell you in words what it felt like," she said. "It's the worst thing I've ever felt in my whole life."

Sheriff's officials released a preliminary list Wednesday showing the Black Forest Fire northeast of Colorado Springs has destroyed at least 92 homes and damaged five more. The fire was among several that surged rapidly Tuesday along Colorado's Front Range.

Fueled by hot temperatures, changing gusts, and thick, bone-dry forests, the Black Forest Fire has prompted evacuation orders and pre-evacuation notices to between 9,000 and 9,500 people and to about 3,500 homes and businesses, sheriff's officials said.

Part of neighboring Elbert County, including two camps with a total of about 1,250 children and adults, also was evacuated.

A separate Colorado wildfire to the south has destroyed 20 structures, including some in Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, and prompted evacuations of about 250 residents and nearly 1,000 medium-security prison inmates who were taken to other facilities. To the north, another fire burned in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Wildfires also were burning in New Mexico, Oregon and California, where a smokejumper was killed fighting one of dozens of lightning-sparked fires.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service mobilized a pair of Defense Department cargo planes to help — a step taken only when all of the Forest Service's 12 contracted tankers are in use. At least one was fighting the Black Forest Fire.

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