Residents hope for best, brace for worst as wildfire rages near Colorado Springs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) — Dressed in yellow, he stands a foot off the deck of a Colorado Springs home, and a few feet from the woods.
Everywhere in front of him, there’s fire.
Thankfully, the flames that climb about five feet up backyard trees don’t catch on — partly because a homeowner wisely trimmed lower branches, in the event of a raging wildfire just like this. And thankfully, the man standing his ground is a firefighter — and he isn’t alone, one of hundreds doing what they can to combat and control the Black Forest Fire that had already singed more than 15,000 acres as of Friday.
After a few strategic sprays of water and fire retardant, and a periodic white-out, the scene documented above in a Colorado Springs Fire Department video ends by charring the yard almost right up to the hot tub on the deck, but skirting past the home.
Yet for all the happy endings like this one, there are plenty of sad ones: As of Friday afternoon, 389 homes had been destroyed, with 12 others suffering partial damage.
The destruction isn’t always dictated by rhyme or reason: Giselle Hernandez told CNN that her home has been spared so far, but her neighbors to the south lost theirs.
“It just goes to show you how unpredictable these things can be,” she said.
‘Certainly moving’ in right direction fighting blaze
This is the second time in a year that the Colorado Springs area has faced a mammoth wildfire. Last summer’s Waldo Canyon Fire burned down about 350 homes and 18,000 acres. Some 32,000 evacuated their homes and two people died. They can start, and spread, quickly — with no regard to what’s in their path.
That’s what happened with the Black Forest Fire after it first flared Tuesday afternoon, for still undetermined reasons.
Hernandez remembered how she, her boyfriend and his family spotted smoke and began mulling the possibility of leaving. But that possibility soon turned into a necessity, as the flames rapidly approached.
“It went from, ‘Well, we should probably pack and get going,’ to, ‘We need to leave right now’ as the smoke started billowing right through the trees on our property.”
The wildfire has been blamed for two deaths. In terms of total property lost and damaged, El Paso County spokesman Dave Rose told CNN earlier this week that it appeared to be the most destructive in state history.
Some 800 personnel are attacking the blaze, and doing it in sweltering heat: Temperatures climbed to around 90 degrees Friday.
In addition to those on the ground, multiple Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters and tankers traversed the air as part of the effort. Authorities also spent much much of the day Friday surveying 7,000 homes to determine which ones made it, which ones did not.
Crews recently managed to gain “some tremendous ground” in identifying hotspots and saving structures, county Sheriff Terry Maketa said. Given that, he expressed optimism they’d “reached the turning point we were looking for.”
Rich Harvey, the head of the federal incident management team tackling the blaze, didn’t go that far, though he did note firefighters had a good Thursday night.
“The corner is a long ways away, but we are certainly moving,” he said.
Resident says: ‘Things are out of our hands’
Carolyn Selvig has been living in this area north of Colorado Springs for 21 years drawn in part by the beauty and peace of the woods.
“The forest is our friend,” she says.
Selvig knows the other side of the equation as well when it comes to living near a forest — the very real possibility and very real power of wildfires.
She and her husband Erik are among roughly 38,000 people — from about 13,000 homes over a 93,000-acre area — who have been told to evacuate due to the Black Forest Fire.
As of midday Friday, their home was still standing, though they can’t breathe easy quite yet: Erik Selvig noted “the intense heat is less than a quarter-mile away.”
His wife, Carolyn, admits she’s probably “more worried than I allow myself to think.” Still, she realizes there’s little she can do at this point beyond trusting in those fighting to save their home and hoping that Mother Nature is on her side.
“Things are out of our hands,” she told CNN. “It is what it is.”
The Selvigs are checking, whenever they can, the official list of homes that have been destroyed and those that have not.
Yes, Coloradans know wildfires are a fact of life; yes, they know that their homes could someday burn. But that doesn’t mean dealing with it, in the moment, is easy.
Says Chris Schroeder, who is also in the evacuation zone, “It’s been a pretty good emotional roller coaster, trying to understand what is happening.”