Colorado fires force thousands to evacuate

(CNN) — Fires in Colorado have forced a prison to evacuate 905 inmates, a state corrections department spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The majority of the inmates are “special needs,” Alison Morgan told CNN, meaning they receive medical treatment.

Because it’s usually a time-consuming process to move inmates, officials began moving those at the Colorado Territorial Correctional facility to Centennial Correctional facility around midnight Tuesday, Morgan said. The transfer was finished at 9 a.m., she said.

She stressed the inmates were moved only as a precaution; the Royal Gorge Fire has not reached Colorado Territorial Correctional facility, which is located on Highway 50 in Canon City, southwest of Colorado Springs.

But that and other fires are moving fast and winds are expected to pick up throughout the day, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said at news conference Wednesday morning. The Black Forest Fire is burning in that county.

“We have some very unpredictable conditions,” he said. Authorities’ “priorities are saving lives — protecting the first responders and firefighters.”

There have been no injuries among responders so far, he said.

Meanwhile, backup is coming in. Rescue workers are getting more helicopters and National Guard troops are relieving law enforcement workers who have been working nonstop, Maketa said.

By late Tuesday, more than 3,600 residents were evacuated as the Black Forest Fire burned quickly through dry timber. As many as 80 homes could be damaged or destroyed, Maketa said Wednesday, but he said an exact estimate was difficult.

Low humidity, high temperatures and wind gusts helped the fire grow quickly and caused officials to issue evacuation orders for more than 2,500 homes.

But not everyone had heeded the evacuation order, Maketa said, and some were having trouble getting out.

“We have some folks that were having difficulty,” he said. “We are focused on our elderly population that may have difficulty moving, and people trying to move animals out. It has gone from an evac to somewhat of a search and rescue.”

Later Tuesday, the sheriff’s office tweeted that 1,260 homes had been evacuated.

Maketa said that some people who had originally indicated they wouldn’t evacuate had called to ask for help.

There have been no reported fatalities among residents, he reiterated Wednesday.

The Black Forest Fire had burned at least 7,500 acres by late Tuesday. It was the largest active fire in the state and is burning in a largely rural area just northeast of Colorado Springs.

The area is heavily wooded and many of the homes are on large parcels of land.

Army firefighters from Fort Carson have joined efforts south of Colorado Springs. The fort is also supporting firefighting efforts in the Black Forest area with bulldozer and air support.

Maketa said he was concerned that firefighting assets would be split between the Black Forest Fire and others burning in the state. He said that a formal request for more help has been placed with the state.

The rapidly growing Royal Gorge Fire had expanded to 3,800 acres by Tuesday evening, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management said. Three structures were confirmed lost.

CNN affiliate KKTV spoke to a farmer who lived close to the flames.

“I’m watching the flames just fly up the mountain, burst these dried trees and then die down,” the farmer said. The fire was moving away from his farm, he said, but he said that there wasn’t a lot of fuel for a fire because much of it had withered away.

The cause of both fires are under investigation, officials said.

There were two other smaller fires burning in Huerfano and Grand counties, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management indicated on a map on its website.

The latter fire was caused by lightning in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The blaze was only several acres in size and hadn’t grown much in spite of the high winds, park officials said on their website.

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