HOUSTON, TEXAS — Firefighters northeast of Colorado Springs, in the western state of Colorado, say they have made significant progress in holding back a wildfire that so far has claimed two lives and around 360 homes. A lot will now depend on weather conditions.
The fires this past week have driven more than 36,000 people from their homes in the rolling hills and forested areas east of the Rocky Mountain front range north of Colorado Springs. Most are now staying with friends, relatives or in Red Cross shelters. Many of them left with only the clothes they were wearing and very little else when authorities called for a fast evacuation Tuesday.
On Thursday, authorities found the bodies of two people who did not make it out of their home as the fire swept through their area, known as the Black Forest.
On Friday officials sounded optimistic, though, saying the massive effort to bring the fire under control appeared to be working and that no more homes had been burned in recent hours.
Lieutenant Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County, Colorado Sheriff's Department, speaking by telephone, said cooler weather is helping.
"We do have some cloud cover. Obviously, one concern would be if we have any thunderstorm activity. Those can bring some pretty gusty winds at times. But so far the effort is going well out there, but we still have a lot of work to do," he said.
Kramer said authorities still do not know what caused the fire, but drought conditions contributed to its rapid spread.
"It has been extremely dry and 'red flag' conditions for some time, meaning just a lot of high fire danger days for us, so when something gets going you can have rapid movement and I think we certainly see that here," said Kramer.
The sheriff's department will conduct a criminal investigation to see if the fire was caused by arson. Since the fire killed at least two people, anyone suspected of having set the fire would face homicide charges.
The fire charred more than 63 square kilometers of grassland, forest and residential neighborhoods this past week, and is now considered the most destructive in Colorado history. One year ago, a fire about 16 kilometers to the west claimed that infamous distinction, destroying 346 homes and killing two people.