Colorado Wildfire Destroys At Least 360 Homes

June 13, 2013

A wildfire in Colorado has destroyed at least 360 homes, topping last year’s record-setting Waldo Canyon Fire in a nearby wooded area that destroyed 346 homes.

The tally of lost homes was a dramatic increase from a report late Wednesday that stated 92 homes were listed as gone. The blaze in the Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs is now the most destructive in Colorado history.

The Waldo Canyon fire led to roughly $353 million in insurance losses, and added up to roughly $600 million in insured losses when paired with the near-consecutive High Park Fire near Fort Collins, which burned 259 homes last summer.

Deputies still have not been able to verify the condition of 79 other homes in the Black Forest fire, so the losses could rise.

Some of the homes that were previously listed as standing were destroyed as high winds pushed the 23-square-mile wildfire back into areas that had already burned, the sheriff said.

The number also rose because deputies worked through the night to assess the damage, although they were also pushed out by the flames at times.

Fueled by hot temperatures, wind gusts and bone-dry forest conditions, the flames have also forced more evacuations. About 38,000 people who live in an area spanning nearly 70 square miles were under mandatory orders to get out.

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

No injuries or deaths have been reported, but officials are trying to confirm the whereabouts of one person reported missing.

The fire was among several that have been burning along Colorado’s Front Range. Wildfires were also burning in New Mexico, Oregon and California, where a smokejumper was killed fighting one of dozens of lightning-sparked blazes.

The U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday 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.

About 60 miles southwest of the Black Forest, a 4.5-square-mile wildfire that evacuated Royal Gorge Bridge & Park has destroyed 20 structures, including some in the park.

The Royal Gorge suspension bridge spanning a canyon across the Arkansas River has fire damage to 32 of its 1,292 wooden planks, city officials said. An aerial tram car and tram buildings on either side of the gorge were destroyed, and the tram cable fell into the gorge. An incline railway descending 1,500 feet to the canyon floor was damaged.

Another fire sparked by lightning Monday in Rocky Mountain National Park has grown to an estimated 600 acres in area with trees killed by pine beetles.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has declared disaster emergencies for the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires and a 60-acre fire in rural Huerfano County, authorizing a combined $10.15 million to help pay for firefighting and other costs.

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