Black Forest Fire Voluntary Evacuation Zone Established [UPDATED]
10:25AM: I'm feeling confident enough now to make this post non-sticky, but I'll continue to update as needed.
9:19AM: Division A covers the fire's closest approach to Highway 83, just east of yesterday's expanded mandatory evacuation zone. That's where today's big effort will concentrate. "Everywhere it's grass, we're winning," up in the north. There are a couple hot spots on the eastern edge near Meridian, but the line has held. They don't sound worried at all. There's still heat in the Shoup area and the now-famous School of the Wood, but that's also the place yesterday they were willing to call contained.
Cooler air and -- for now -- lighter winds. "Aviation assets are still strong," with no losses. The mood is cautious-but-confident.
I can't even begin to tell you what a difference a year has made in Colorado's ability to respond to these fires.
9:08AM: "In general I am feeling more confident today." That's Sheriff Marketa, who says they gained some "tremendous ground" yesterday. More to come.
7:06AM: Number of evacuees now up to 41,000. That includes 3,000 from inside the city limits of Colorado Springs. The most encouraging sign I've seen so far is that the sheriff's office is at least considering allowing some evacuees back into their homes.
FRIDAY, 6:49AM: Woke up twenty minutes ago and the first thing I did was check the evacuation zones and burn area maps. No additional evacuations overnight, which is good. But the winds were strong and steady all night, so it looks like we have a lot more fires within a slightly enlarged burn area.
The real danger looks to be the same as yesterday, to the south of Shoup Road and to the east past Meridian. I'm to the north and west, but if we didn't have to evacuate yesterday -- and I was deeply convinced we would -- then there's a good chance we won't have to today either.
Yesterday the Air Force and National Guard showed up like the Eighth Air Force over Germany in 1943. There were private planes and copters involved, too. Combined with over 700 firemen, the fought the breakout in the east-west running Shoup-Hodgen corridor damn near to standstill. Because if the fire were going to burn its way into the heart of Colorado Springs, that's where it was going to happen. Sheriff Marketa described the effort as something close to a victory. But today there are many new fires south of Shoup, so last night must have been tough. The weather forecast for today is cooler, cloudier, and most importantly, less windy.
The next press conference is scheduled for 9AM.
5:32PM: Looks like we're good for tonight -- Marketa isn't even talking about our area. The line has held at Highway 83, and things are looking good in the corridor between Hodgen and Shoup.
It's going to be a while before this thing is fully contained, much less extinguished. But it looks for now like the biggest threat has passed.
So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go wipe my nose and get quietly drunk.
5:11PM: Per El Paso County Sheriff Marketa, two bodies have been found and positively ID'd, but their identities have not yet been released.
3:48PM: According to Weather Underground, there are at least two fires right at the Highway 83 line. That's the last north-south running firebreak before I-25.
And my home.
3:02PM: According to the latest satellite detection map, at least two fires have been spotted south of Shoup Rd. Now I noticed during the Waldo Canyon Fire that these satellite images aren't 100% reliable. But if this is accurate, there's not another good east-west running firebreak until Woodmen -- which really increases the pucker factor for folks in the Springs.
Let's hope the satellite is wrong.
2:17PM The expanded mandatory evacuation zone is within the city of Colorado Springs. It includes Fox Run Regional Park and parts south outside the city, and the Flying Horse Ranch development inside the city. That's about 1,000 more homes with everyone ordered out.
Word is, the expansion is more due to fears of the winds picking up and shifting direction, than it is about new fires moving south and west.
Although the evacuations are west of the Highway 83 firebreak, there have been no actual fires reported west of there.
2:01PM: There have been some additions to the mandatory evacuation area in El Paso. Details to follow soon.
1:47PM: The Gazette is going all high-tech with this map. The red is the burn area, and the yellow dots are active fires as spotted by satellite.
12:55PM: The Denver Post is keeping track of all the homes listed as total losses. This map has 360 blue pins marking the ones listed so far.
12:12PM: Best map I've seen so far, courtesy of KKTV's Twitter feed. The colored areas are the evacuation zones, mandatory, voluntary, and precautionary. The grey sliver north of the western yellow zone, and just west of the central red zone is Casa Verde.
The white indicates the burn areas.
9:58PM: The Black Forest Fire is already the most damaging in Colorado history, and Sheriff Marketa was unwilling to comment on whether it was contained anywhere at all.
It's that bad.
9:18AM: The latest numbers from Sheriff Marketa. The man is earning his paycheck this week.
You can follow him here.
I'm watching his morning briefing right now on KKTV's livestream, and none of the evacuation areas have been expanded or had their status changed. He's saying the "dynamic" wind is going to be today's biggest threat.
Air Force, National Guard are out in force. Copters and planes flying nonstop. The response to Waldo Canyon last year was confused at first and slow to get going. This year they've worked the kinks out and the response has been exceptional.
Bless these guys and gals.
8:02AM: Have a better map of the evac areas now, complete with burn locations.
Casa Verde is up closer to the little bedroom icon in the northwest, indicating Palmer Ridge High School. The school is still being used as an emergency shelter as far as I know, so for now our area is doing OK.
6:12AM: So this has happened more than a hundred times already, just in Black Forest. And as noted earlier, the Black Forest/El Paso County and Elbert County zones has merged at County Line Road. No word if County Line has been closed yet, so if we have to leave, we'll head east and away from the worst of the traffic.
Also, I will be blogging non-fire news all day, or as long as the internet holds out. But this post will remain at the top of the page for at least one more day.
5:56AM: They've expanded the mandatory evacuation areas yet again, with both Elbert and Black Forest closed in on County Line Road. We're still not in it, but this feels like the day we'll have to bug out. Everything is packed and ready.
8:18PM: Just now, from the Gazette piece linked earlier:
Firefighters on scanner: It's looking good to the east and to the north. "That's some of the best news I've heard all day."
Bad as this is, so far it isn't nearly as bad as last year's Waldo Canyon Fire. Back then I wrote:
It was coming right at us, by way of the Air Force Academy and a series of firebreaks which Waldo had breached, one after the other.
Waldo, despite the oldtimey name, was one wicked fast wildfire. Unpredictable, too. Every time the fire crews jinked, it jerked. And the winds, which Waldo itself helped create, kept the firefighting aircraft grounded for hours at a stretch.
Firefighters last year swore up and down to a man and woman that they'd never seen anything like Waldo. They aren't saying that about Black Forest. I think we'll sleep OK here tonight.
8:14PM: The view from 30,000 feet.
7:43PM: I should mention that the fires in Elbert County are also headed this way, and that the evacuation areas are just as close as the ones around the Black Forest Fire.
6:17PM: A bit of good news. The northern edge of the Voluntary Evacuation Area has been moved back south to North Gate. And clouds are rolling in and the temperature is dropping. The winds remain a problem, and an unpredictable one at that.
5:49PM: I'd forgotten about WunderMap, which lets you track fires via satellite. Useful as all get-out. Anyway, here are the actual fires instead of just the evacuation areas.
Casa Verde is up closer to I-25 and County Line Road, so the worst burns are still a good distance away. Well, a decent distance away. They're still close than the Waldo Canyon Fire got to us just this time last year.
5:20PM: All times Mountain for future reference. But how about some nice news:
"Steve Bartolin, President and Chief Executive Officer of The BroAdmoor, has advised the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance that the food that was to be served at tomorrow's State of the City Luncheon for 500 plus member investors and community leaders will be prepared and delivered to the first responders today or tomorrow. We are most grateful to Steve Bartolin and The BroAdmoor for this significant gesture of support for our first responders and those they are working so hard to protect. The State of the City Luncheon will be rescheduled and payments made will be applied to a subsequent luncheon at The BroAdmoor."
OVERHEARD: 5:09PM Mountain and the fire has doubled back and burning homes which were previously considered having passed out of danger.
UPDATE: This fire is zero percent contained. That's a zero followed by nothing.
UPDATE: The voluntary zone has been moved all the way north to Highway 105/Woodmoor Rd.
That's within spitting distance of Casa Verde. I'm going to go pack a few more things.
The El Paso County Sheriff has told residents between Briargate and Gleneagle they may evacuate if they desire, mostly due to smoke worries. That's the area bounded by Highway 83, Burgess, and Milam to the west; Old Ranch to the south; I-25 to the west; and North Gate/Old North Gate to the north.
That's a pretty big stretch of land, with houses, condos, and even a few ranches.