Homeowners to View Destroyed Black Forest Fire Properties
On June 17, The Gazette published an article titled Officials Prepare to Take Homeowners to View Destroyed Black Forest Fire Properties.
Updated property damage assessment - Please note this information is current as of June 17, and verified by the El Paso County Sheffif's Department. The information is subject to change.
Please click here for prior reporting. Following is the aforementioned article.
Officials prepare to take homeowners to view destroyed Black Forest fire properties
The number of homes destroyed in the Black Forest fire shot above 500 on Monday, delivering another punch to a community grappling with the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said the fire burned 502 homes and damaged 18, up from the last report of 483 burned and 17 damaged. The tab for fighting the fire was $5.5 million as of Monday morning, officials said.
"No words. Just heartbroken for all those affected," Colorado Springs resident Sheila Anderson said on Facebook.
As the destruction toll rose, officials assured residents that they would get them in to see their properties as quickly as possible - perhaps as early as Tuesday.
Many of the homes added to the list Monday were on Ravine Drive in what is called the Brentwood area, county spokesman Joel Quevillon said.
"The Brentwood area is or was an older part," he said. "Some of these older homes didn't have foundations so you didn't know if it was a home or a barn or something like that."
The assessor's office went into the area Monday to help verify addresses and property lines, Quevillon said.
"The deputies said it was pretty bad in that area," he said.
Meanwhile, containment increased to 75 percent, and Sheriff Terry Maketa allowed more evacuated residents to return home late Monday. More areas are expected to open Tuesday and plans are underway to escort those who have lost houses to their property.
"For a lot of you, it's not going home. It's going to rubble," Maketa said during a late morning news briefing.
"Our goal remains the same, to get you back in there to see your property," Maketa said, noting that areas reopening would likely begin west of Meridian Road, which remained closed on Monday.
Multiple agencies are working to make the area safe to take homeowners into the burn zone, Maketa said.
The plan is to customize visits, he said. If homeowners want to go see what remains of their house and leave immediately, they can do that; if they want to spend time and dig around, they can do that, too, Maketa said.
Maketa said he aims to get residents inside by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.
"It's a priority to get you back to your home," he said.
While it may be easy to get a false sense that the fire is over and done, a long recovery looms, he said.
Black Forest fire incident commander Rich Harvey expanded on Maketa's comments at the briefing, once again discussing what he called a three-stage plan to ensure property is safe before allowing residents back in.
"Safe for repopulation is a different standard than safe to visit," Harvey said.
Crews are combing properties from home foundations outward looking for smoke and hotspots that could be signs of future flare ups. Harvey said when the first group is done on a lot, a second group of different personnel makes another pass.
Finally, after the first two checks are done, a third group that includes local officials makes one more inspection before clearing that property for re-entry.
Harvey also said increased humidity Sunday night helped crews achieve 75 percent containment, up from 65 announced Sunday.
Some equipment used to fight the blaze was being released Monday. Harvey said about a dozen resources - including bulldozers and water tenders - would remain on standby in case conditions take a turn for the worse.
The fire area remained at 14,198 acres and had not grown overnight. Harvey said most crews were in the mop-up process.
Dan May, the 4th Judicial district attorney, also spoke at Monday's news briefing, issuing a warning to "greedy" people who might decide to loot or burglarize homes in evacuation zones. He said those criminals would be prosecuted "to the greatest extent of the law."
"We will show looters the same compassion they have shown our friends and neighbors," May said.
El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, whose district was ravaged by the Waldo Canyon fire in June 2012, said Monday that challenges for the Black Forest fire would be different.
Clark said Black Forest would not have the flash-flood risk that areas near the Waldo Canyon burn scar are facing. She said one big threat will be burned trees that could easily topple.
Clark said the effects are evident as the Black Forest fire area has "lots of utility destruction."
Harvey said that at least 20 Black Hills Energy crews were in the fire zone Monday working hard to address needs.
County officials announced Monday that residents affected by the fire can use a 24-hour self-serve location to get potable water. The site is at Black Forest and Burgess roads. Donated plastic containers will be available at the water source.
Officials are investigating a possible cause of the fire. Maketa said they are "zeroing in" on a point of origin but have a long way to go.
The identities of the two people who died in the fire last week have not been released.
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