The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 14, 2013

2 found dead in area burned by Colo. wildfire; 379 homes burned

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Firefighters have at least temporarily battled to a "draw" with a fast-moving fire that has already killed two people and destroyed 379 homes, giving weary authorities and residents the first glimmer of hope after three days of mounting damage, a sheriff said.

After nearly doubling in size overnight, the fire held at about 25 square miles Thursday despite more swirling winds and bone-dry conditions, said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. "If it was a draw, then that was a victory today," Maketa said, "because we haven't had many draws lately."

Little more than 36 hours after it started in the Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs, the blaze surpassed last June's Waldo Canyon fire as the most destructive in state history. That blaze burned 347 homes and killed two people.

The day began somberly, with Maketa drawing audible gasps as he announced the number of homes lost. But by late afternoon, a film of much-needed clouds stretched out overhead, as Maketa and other officials described determined efforts to keep the conflagration from spreading to more densely populated areas to the south and west. In one instance, Maketa said, firefighters stood with their backs literally to the wall of a rural school building and successfully fought back the flames.

"These guys just decided they were going to take a stand and save that building," he said.

But the relief was marred by sadness. Maketa said crews on Thursday found the remains of two people who appeared to be trying to flee. The victims were found in a garage in Black Forest and apparently died in the first hours after the fire ignited Tuesday afternoon. "The car doors were open as if they were loading or grabbing last-minute things," Maketa said.

Earlier Thursday, residents were ordered to leave 1,000 homes in Colorado Springs. Thursday's evacuation was the first within the city limits. About 38,000 other people living across roughly 70 square miles were already under orders to get out.

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