published Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Colorado wildfire burns several homes, threatens neighborhood

A plume of smoke from the Big Meadows Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park rises above Longs Peak, as seen from just east of Boulder, Colo., Tuesday, June 11, 2013.
A plume of smoke from the Big Meadows Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park rises above Longs Peak, as seen from just east of Boulder, Colo., Tuesday, June 11, 2013.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A wildfire charged through the Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, igniting several large houses as its flames threatened a neighborhood set in dense forest where some home values top $1 million.

Video from a helicopter showed the flames engulfing several large homes. Homes in the Black Forest area are on sites between 2 to 5 acres each. Cathedral Pines, a neighborhood with several pricey homes, is among the areas evacuated because of the blaze.

Fire managers have requested aerial firefighting resources, but with at least two other major wildfires burning in Colorado, it wasn’t clear when they might arrive, said Lt. Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County sheriff’s department. The Air Force Academy was among those sending ground resources to help fight the flames.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the Black Forest Fire, Kramer said. He didn’t know how many homes had been evacuated.

Kramer said it was too soon to say what caused the blaze. He said residents were being notified to leave by automated phone calls and in some cases in-person visits from sheriff’s deputies.

“To protect life is certainly the ultimate priority here,” Kramer said.

The Black Forest Fire was one of at least three significant wildfires burning in Colorado amid gusty winds and record-breaking hot, dry weather.

A fire burning on an estimated 300 acres south of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Arkansas River led to the evacuation of the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park near Canon City, the Bureau of Land Management said. Park spokeswoman Peggy Gair told The Gazette (http://bit.ly/13z4AVJ ) the evacuations affected several hundred people at the park, which closed Tuesday afternoon. Evacuations also were in effect from Parkdale to Soda Point, north of the Royal Gorge, the BLM said.

The 360-acre Royal Gorge Bridge & Park claims the world’s highest suspension bridge at 956 feet, spanning a quarter mile across the Arkansas River.

In northern Colorado, crews were trying to suppress a wildfire sparked by lightning Monday in Rocky Mountain National Park that was growing and sending out large plumes of smoke in the less-used western end of the park. No immediate size estimate was available. Several trails were closed as the fire burned through subalpine grassland and forest.

Fire managers usually try to allow naturally occurring fires to burn, partly to prevent bigger wildfires later. But park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said managers decided to fight it because of extended drought conditions and reduced resources. She said the park’s ability to manage a long burning fire is “significantly limited.”

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning covering southern Colorado due to hot, dry, windy conditions that were ripe for fast-growing wildfires.

Wildfires were also keeping crews busy to the south in New Mexico, where a new blaze in the Pecos Wilderness north of Santa Fe more than quadrupled in size Tuesday. The 1,500-acre Jaroso Fire was one of several that ignited in New Mexico as hot, dry conditions persisted there.

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