Colorado Wildfire Forces Prison Evacuation

By: CBS/AP (Posted by Amanda Lanum)
By: CBS/AP (Posted by Amanda Lanum)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS/AP) -- A wildfire forced the evacuation of more than 900 prisoners at a state prison southwest of Colorado Springs early Wednesday, one of four blazes across the Front Range that destroyed dozens of homes and forced thousands of people to flee.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson said prisoners from the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility were taken to other prisons around the Front Range overnight. The evacuation was ordered because of the danger from heavy smoke, she said. The fire has not reached the prison.

"This was done as a precaution because it takes a lot of time to move the prisoners," Jacobson said.

The medium- and low-risk prisoners were evacuated by bus, including 24 from an infirmary who were taken to a Denver facility to protect them from smoke, some in wheelchairs.

At least four major wildfires fueled by hot, gusty weather Tuesday burned along the front of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, including two that together destroyed dozens of structures and chased people from hundreds of homes.

Thick smoke visible for miles billowed from fires that destroyed homes near Colorado Springs and three structures near Canon City. Fires also burned in southern Colorado and in Rocky Mountain National Park to the north.

A wildfire on roughly 12 square miles in a heavily wooded residential area northeast of Colorado Springs led to the mandatory evacuations of about 2,300 homes, affecting about 6,400 people, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

He estimated 40 to 60 homes have burned, but said the number could easily rise. A more specific number wasn't available.

"Right now, the firefighters are more focused on fighting fires, drawing lines. And law enforcement, to be very honest, is scrambling to get people out of there as well as do searches," Maketa said. He said firefighters have shifted from evacuation mode to search-and-rescue mode.

CBS Denver station KCNC reports the pilot of one of its helicopters flying over the Black Forest Fire spotted large homes burning to the ground, some of which were valued at more than $1 million.

Six helicopters and an air tanker were at the scene to help firefighters, Maketa said. The office of Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said that, after speaking with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, it had a verbal agreement for C-130 cargo planes to be deployed to the fire.

The area is not far from last summer's devastating Waldo Canyon Fire that destroyed 346 homes and killed two.

"It's very, very reminiscent of what we experienced in Waldo Canyon," Maketa said.

However there were no immediate reports of injuries in the fires Tuesday.

All the fires were moving quickly, driven by record temperatures and strong winds. The conditions were making it difficult to build containment lines around the fires, and sparks jumped across them.

"Weather is not working with us right now, but our guys are giving it a heck of a shot," Maketa said.

The fire outside Colorado Springs was listed as having zero containment, reports the CBS affiliate there, KKTV.

In southern Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management said three structures have been lost in a fire on about 6 square miles near the Royal Gorge Bridge. Authorities evacuated Royal Gorge Bridge & Park.

A third wildfire in southern Colorado erupted Tuesday in rural Huerfano County. The Klikus Fire had burned an estimated 45 to 50 acres west of La Veta, prompting evacuation orders for about 200 residences.

The causes of those fires weren't immediately confirmed.

A fourth wildfire sparked by lightning Monday in Rocky Mountain National Park quickly grew to an estimated 300 to 400 acres Tuesday. No structures were threatened.

In the Colorado Springs area, George Gonzales, 74, and his wife were spending the night in their motorhome in the parking lot of a Red Cross shelter set up for evacuees from the Black Forest Fire. He said the two had been eating lunch in town when his daughter got an alert on her phone about the fire and called them.

An officer let them go back home to retrieve their dogs, their motorhome and truck, and his heart medicine, George Gonzales said.

"Sure, we're worried, but we're hoping for the best," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized federal funds to defray costs of fighting the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires.

"There is nobody backing away and saying we're not going to attack this with everything that we've got," Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a news conference late Tuesday.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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