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Black Forest Fire Explodes On June 11 Northeast Of Colorado Springs, Burns Homes

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4/AP) - A wildfire raging in hot, dry conditions northeast of Colorado Springs has burned between 40 and 60 homes, according to authorities.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the Black Forest Fire led to 2,530 reverse 911 calls made and 3,600 people evacuated from 1,259 homes. About 300 more are under voluntary evacuation notices. He said authorities are "scrambling" to fight the fire and make sure people are safe before tallying the destruction.

"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.

VIDEO: Gov. Hickenlooper Addresses The Wildfires

Military officials said a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the Colorado Army National Guard and three helicopters from Fort Carson were helping firefighters. Another National Guard helicopter was on standby for search and rescue.

The fire is estimated at 7,500 to 8,000 acres.

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

Copter4 video over the Black Forest Fire showed large homes in the Black Forest Regional Park area of El Paso County burning to the ground amid large plumes of smoke that was visible for miles around. Some of the home values top $1 million.

Cathedral Pines, a neighborhood with several pricey homes, is among the areas evacuated because of the blaze.

VIDEO: Tuesday Night Black Forest Fire News Conference

Citizens can call (719) 444-8300 for information on Black Forest Fire. Authorities want residents to use that number instead of calling local emergency numbers.

As of 9 p.m. 48 people checked in to the Palmer Ridge High School shelter and 15 at the shelter at New Life Church.

The fire started at approximately 2 p.m. near the 12600 block of Peregrine Way. So far there's no word on any injuries.

Black Forest Fire
(credit: CBS)

Many residents of the neighborhood were parked outside the fire lines in the hours after the fire started watching in horror as plume after plume of large thick black smoke came up from the burn area.

VIDEO: Reports From Black Forest Fire

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, Lt. Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff's Department 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.

PHOTO GALLERY: Homes Burn In Black Forest Fire

The following mandatory evacuations are in place:

- West to Tahosa
- South to Shoup
- East to Holmes
- North to Fox Chase (including all of Cathedral Pines)
- Holmes East to Black Forest
- Shoup North to Hodgen

There are also multiple road closures in place with the fire:

- Highway 83 from Shoup to Hodgen
- Hodgen from Highway 83 to Black Forest
- Black Forest from Hodgen to Shoup
- Shoup from Black Forest to Highway 83

Mike Stearly, an official with the U.S. Forest Service office in Golden, said his office was in high gear Tuesday afternoon ordering resources for the firefight. He said an air tanker will be coming from Silver City, Nev., to help fight the fire. Stearly said he wasn't sure how long it will take for that plane to arrive.

"We are a little disconnected with the immediate information on ground, but we are focusing on the protection of people at this time," Stearly told CBS4. "Things are hot and heavy here at the coordination center."

fire pics
(credit: CBS)

The Black Forest Fire is 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 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.

Wildfires Map
(credit: CBS)

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.

Wildfire Resources

- Visit's Wildfire Resources section.

- Read recent Wildfire stories.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

- See images from the most destructive wildfires (Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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