At a Thursday morning press conference, officials reported that the Black Forest Fire raging near Colorado Springs is now the most destructive in state history, surpassing the Waldo Canyon Fire that ravaged the same area just one year ago.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the fire doubled in size Wednesday –15,000 acres are now ablaze, with 360 homes destroyed and 38,000 people currently in the evacuation area. As the dry, hot, windy conditions that have stoked the fire thus far are predicted to continue through Friday, Maketa said there is currently zero percent containment.
On the other side of Colorado Springs, the Royal Gorge Fire has destroyed an estimated 3,100 acres and 20 structures with 20 percent containment reported as of Wednesday evening. The fire is burning on both sides of the iconic Royal Gorge Bridge which spans the Arkansas River and attracts thousands of tourists to the area each year. The Royal Gorge Fire forced the evacuation of the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility outside Canon City to other prisons on Tuesday.
As Mother Jones explains, climate change is intensifying the extreme heat, drought, and other conditions that fuel devastating wildfires. As forests become hotter and drier, and milder winters lead to an increase in infestations such as the pine bark beetle, a recent report authored by U.S. Forest Service scientists predicts that the acreage burned by wildfires will double by 2050 to about 20 million acres annually.
2012 marked the worst fire season Colorado had ever seen, as 4,167 wildfires caused record losses of $538 million.
As of Friday morning, the Black Forest Fire has claimed two lives and is estimated at 15,702 acres with just five percent containment. 379 homes have been lost and the evacuation area covers more than 94,000 acres, includes 38,000 people and affects 34,000 homes. According to KDVR Denver, “The inferno is likely to continue for a couple more days as temperatures are forecast to stay in the 90s through Friday, with winds gusting up to 30 mph.”