Vintage: Colorado’s Black Forest Wildfire, June 2013
The Black Forest fire destroyed more than 360 homes, the most ever for a Colorado wildfire. The Black Forest Fire was a forest fire that began near Highway 83 and Shoup Road in Black Forest, Colorado in the US around 13h00 on 11 June 2013. The fire was 100 percent contained on 20 June 2013 with a total of 14 280 acres (57,8 km2) burned, at least 509 homes were said to be destroyed and two people had died. This was the most destructive fire in the State of Colorado’s history, surpassing the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, which also began near Colorado Springs. On 13 June 2013, 457 fire fighters were working the fireline, including agencies around the fire, the Colorado Air National Guard and select personnel from fire suppression teams on Fort Carson and the nearby United States Air Force Academy. Of note, three UH-60 and three CH-47 from 2-4 GSAB were instrumental in providing immediate response to assist in fighting the fires. The battalion, commanded by LTC Tyler Smith, launched with very little notice to provide much needed support to the Front Range region. One of the CH-47D aircraft ‘Patches’, was involved in the effort on every day. US Northern Command assisted with fire fighting efforts. As of Friday, 21 June 2013, the fire was completely contained but the total number of homes lost had risen to 511 and Sheriff Maketa stated that the assessed value of the lost homes totalled about $90 million. The cost for fighting the fire was estimated at $9 323 955.
The evacuation area covered 94 000 acres (380 km2) acres, 13 000 homes and 38 000 people. Three shelters were established in the area, including Elbert County Fairgrounds, which accepted humans, pets and large animals. Two other shelters were designated for large animals only.
Within two days of ignition, the Black Forest fire surpassed the previous year's Waldo Canyon fire as the most destructive fire in Colorado history. El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa stated that at least 360 homes had been lost and 15 000 acres had burned as of the 13 June 2013 morning briefing. It was also released that 1 205 homes were still unaffected by the fire, and 38 000 residents had been evacuated from 13 000 homes so far. The National Weather Service predicted a third day of hot, dry, windy weather for the fire area, especially in late afternoon. Isolated thunderstorms were expected.
Already the most destructive fire in Colorado history, the fire remained at zero containment throughout the day with weather forecasts showing no natural relief in sight. By late Thursday morning, 13 June 2013, the fire had also severed the broadcast transmission line for 740 AM KVOR, which operates a transmitter in the evacuation zone. As a result, crews were unable to enter the area to repair the transmission line. The Gazette reported that KVOR moved to 1300 AM, a sister station.
By 17h00, containment of the fire increased to five percent and the acreage increased to 15 700 acres (64 km2). Sheriff Terry Maketa reported two fatalities were discovered and the victims appeared to have died while attempting to evacuate their home. Dry lightning and thunderstorms were also reported forming in the area, including one sparking a brief-lived sister fire north of Cripple Creek. Maketa announced on Friday morning that 19 more homes burned, totalling 379 and in the evening, his office further updated this number to 419.
Fire fighters were able to make some important gains the evening of Friday, 14 June 2013, when some cloud cover and rain moved into the area, bringing containment to 30 percent that night.
It was announced in the early morning hours of Saturday, 15 June 2013 that the sheriff's office had updated some information at midnight, including the number of homes burnt rising to 473 and containment of the blaze rising to 30 percent. By evening, KOAA reported the fire as 55 percent contained and the number of houses destroyed as 483.
On Sunday, 16 June 2013 the fire was 65 percent contained and the number of homes destroyed had climbed to 485. The burned area was downgraded from 15 000 to 14 198 acres due to better mapping. The fire fighting costs had reached $5,2 million.
At 19h30 on 16 June2013, the Sheriff's office released new data on the number of homes affected: 3 633 unaffected, 483 total loss and 17 with partial damage. Due to lessons learned from the Waldo Canyon Fire, a publicly accessible list of affected homes was published by the Sheriff's office and updated on a regular basis, using the same web address to reflect ongoing updates to this data in real time. At 20h00, more areas that were on mandatory evacuation were changed to pre-evacuation status to allow residents in those areas to return home.
As of Friday, 21 June 2013, the fire was completely contained but the total number of homes lost had risen to 511 and Sheriff Maketa stated that the assessed value of the lost homes totalled about $90 million. The cost for fighting the fire was estimated at $9 323 955.
Authorities continued to investigate the cause of the fire, which killed a married couple, Marc Allen Herklotz, age 52, and his wife, Robin Lauran Herklotz, age 50, who were attempting to flee the area. The bodies were discovered Thursday, 13 June 2013 in what was the garage of a home that the blaze had levelled. They were next to a car with its doors open. The car's trunk was packed full of belongings. The sheriff's office, which said the fire's cause was not natural, has executed search warrants and conducted interviews.