COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Authorities lifted evacuations in a wide swath of terrain outside Colorado Springs on Friday as they said a surprise rain shower helped them expand containment of a wildfire that has destroyed 400 homes.
Just one day after clearing out the Flying Horse neighborhood in northern Colorado Springs, officials allowed people back into at least 1,000 houses. They also reopened an eastern swath of the nearby Black Forest area in El Paso County.
Incident Commander Rich Harvey said the Black Forest fire – the most destructive in Colorado history – is now 30 percent contained. It was only 5 percent contained Thursday. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.
The fire, in which two people died while apparently trying to escape their home, began Tuesday during record-setting heat and tinder-dry conditions. Officials warned it still could flare up again if the weather shifts.
Crews say they were better prepared to take on the flames because of lessons learned fighting last year’s Waldo Canyon fire, a similarly devastating blaze that devoured hundreds of homes and killed two people only a few miles away.
When the Black Forest, a thickly wooded rural region north of Colorado Springs, began to burn, authorities swiftly evacuated tens of thousands of people from an area larger than the Denver metropolitan area. And they rushed federal troops and aircraft into action, cutting the red tape that had grounded those resources a year ago as smoke clouds billowed over Colorado.
“We’ve done it all before and so there was no question,” said Nicola Sapp, El Paso County budget officer. “Everybody jumped right in.”