Black Forest Fire
Driving the roads in Black Forest, it is absolutely heart breaking when you think that every burned home represents the hopes and dreams of a person, a couple or a family and it all went up in smoke – literally.
Final numbers won’t be in for a while but 22 square miles (over 14,000 acres) burned along with 500 homes plus or minus and as yet uncounted outbuildings like garages, barns, sheds and even greenhouses. Given the number of residents that initially refused to evacuate we are fortunate that only two people lost their lives and all indications are they were in the process of evacuating and just didn’t make it.
There are some records you don’t want to set. 38,000 people on mandatory evacuation is a Colorado record. Last year’s Waldo Canyon fire with 18,000 acres and 347 homes was the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history. Now it appears El Paso County is home to the two most destructive fires in Colorado’s history and in consecutive years.
With the day starting with 6 a.m. briefings and moving from meeting to meeting, stopping by the Emergency Operations Center, Joint Information Center, Incident Command Post and Disaster Assistance Center, everything else on my calendar just disappeared. I did get a chance to take a quick pass though emails Saturday morning but know I am behind in phone messages.
Manned around the clock, except the Disaster Assistance Center which is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., those operations centers are staffed by professionals, volunteers and reassigned county staff, all were at their post at the assigned times treating Saturday and Fathers Day just like they had the previous three and ever how many more may come.
The evacuee number is steadily decreasing as the fire zone and threat continue to decrease. Families are being allowed back to their homes but there will be some 500 families with no home to go back to and others with smoke damage so severe that they will not be able to stay until it is mitigated. So as we learned with Waldo, the disaster is not over when the fire is out we just move to the next phase.
Utilities, building officials, Health Department, DOT, and a host of others are working to ensure when people are allowed back to their homes in the burned area the roads are safe, water and sanitation facilities exist and safe disposal sites are set up for spoiled food. And all are working daylight to dusk and beyond to make certain there is minimal delay in getting these people home.
Trees, houses and even family heirlooms burned but community survived. The Black Forest community is wounded and hurting but it will heal, it will flourish and it will always be the Black Forest.