BLACK FOREST, Colo. - A wind-whipped wildfire burning out of control for a third day Thursday had destroyed more than 360 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 7,000 people, authorities said.
More than 11,000 acres had burned as of Thursday and the blaze, the most destructive in state history, was zero percent contained, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said. The cause of the fire was unknown, but fire officials said there is no evidence of lightning strikes in the area.
Firefighters engaging the blaze, one of three burning out of control across the state, were hampered by high temperatures and stiff winds.
The Black Forest area, named for its thick growth of Ponderosa Pines, is just a few miles from Colorado Springs, the state's second largest city. Some Colorado Springs residents were warned to be ready to evacuate, mostly because of a fear of flying embers spreading the fire.
Sheriff's officials also evacuated part of neighboring Elbert County, including two camps with a total of about 1,250 children and adults. Bits of ash and the smell of smoke drifted into Denver, about 60 miles to the north, where the haze blocked the sun.
No injuries or deaths have been reported, but Maketa said officials were trying to confirm the whereabouts of one person reported missing Wednesday. Firefighters tried to go where the person was last seen but were turned back twice because it was too hot, he said.
"One of my worst fears is that people took their chances and it may have cost them their life," he said.
A wildfire to the south had burned 3,100 acres and destroyed 20 structures, including some in Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. The blaze, about 20% contained, prompted evacuations of about 250 residents and nearly 1,000 inmates at a medium-security prison.
Another fire burning on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park was estimated at 600 acres late Wednesday, an increase of 200 acres from the morning press briefing. At the time of the update, no containment had been established and no structures were threatened.
(KUSA Denver/USA Today)