(Recasts with more details on fire, costs, property losses,
By Keith Coffman
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., June 14 (Reuters) - Rain and calmer
winds helped firefighters tame a deadly wildfire ranked as
Colorado's most destructive on record as authorities reported
making significant headway on Friday in curtailing a blaze that
has ravaged at least 400 homes outside Colorado Springs.
The fire has charred roughly 24 square miles (6,215
hectares) of rolling, wooded terrain northeast of Colorado's
second-largest city since it erupted on Tuesday, killing two
people and forcing some 38,000 to flee their homes.
Fire managers expect it will take nearly another week to
fully corral the blaze, but the outlook improved as rain showers
moved into the area at midday following an encouraging night on
the fire lines that El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa called a
Overcast skies, cooler temperatures and the absence of
strong, erratic winds that stoked the blaze during its first
three days were also cited as factors in the subsiding fire.
"We had a real good day without wind," Maketa told a news
conference as he announced that some evacuated areas were being
reopened to residents. "The rain made a tremendous impact."
He added, "If you look at it as a fight, we got our tails
kicked for a couple of days ... and I think today we delivered
While officials cautioned that conditions could change again
for the worse, incident commander Rich Harvey of the U.S. Forest
Service said there was "no significant progress by the fire in
any direction today."
Aerial photos of devastated areas showed large swaths of
obliterated neighborhoods with bare, blackened trees and houses
reduced to cinders and rubble.
Governor John Hickenlooper said after touring the fire zone
on Friday that he was struck by the "the randomness" of the
"There are places where few trees were left alone and the
homes were burned to the ground. And then areas where the trees
burned and the houses were fine," he said.
The bulk of the 400 destroyed homes were lost in the first
24 hours of the fire, Maketa said. The remains of two people
killed on Tuesday night, in the midst of an evacuation attempt
as flames closed in, were pulled from the wreckage of their
garage on Thursday.
EVACUATION ORDERS LIFTED
But the news was notably more upbeat a day later.
Firefighters with bulldozers managed to clear a new buffer
between the western edge of the blaze and the city limits of
As of late Friday afternoon, a firefighting force estimated
to include some 800 personnel, along with air tankers and
water-dropping helicopters, had managed to carve containment
lines around 30 percent of the blaze's perimeter, up from 5
percent on Thursday.
Officials also lifted evacuation orders for the northern tip
of the city, comprising more than 1,000 homes, along with some
adjacent communities on its outskirts where some 4,000 to 5,000
people had been forced to flee.
Maketa said an investigation into the two fire-related
deaths as possible homicides did not necessarily mean
authorities suspect arson, though officials said the cause
appears to be of human origin.
"When I say, 'homicide investigation,' it's because we have
two deceased people (and) that means we investigate it as a
crime until we prove otherwise," he said.
On Thursday, authorities said 360 homes had been confirmed
as total losses, surpassing the previous record of 346 dwellings
destroyed last year on the northwestern fringe of Colorado
Springs by the so-called Waldo Canyon fire, then deemed the most
destructive blaze in state history.
Although no additional structures burned overnight, the
running tally of confirmed losses climbed by 40 homes on Friday.
Catastrophe modeling company AIR Worldwide, whose software
is used by the insurance industry to predict losses, said the
houses within the fire's perimeter had a total value of around
$500 million. Ultimate losses could be less than that, though,
depending on how badly damaged the houses were.
The estimated cost of fighting the fire through Thursday was
put at $2 million, Harvey said.
The Black Forest blaze, named for the community near where
it started, was the largest of several burning across Colorado
this week and has underscored concerns that prolonged drought
conditions could intensify this year's fire season in the
western United States.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing
by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)
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