COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Firefighters could again get some help from rain Monday as they work to put out hot spots from the most destructive wildfire ever in Colorado.
A steady rain moved through densely wooded Black Forest Sunday as crews worked to prevent flare-ups that could burn homes left standing in the fire zone.
“Every bit of rain helps the crews mop up. It’s just adding another nail in the coffin,” fire spokesman Brandon Hampton said.
Nearly 500 houses have been burned by the 22-square-mile fire, which is 65 percent contained. Crews hope to have it fully under control by Thursday.
People evacuated from outside the fire zone, but authorities warned those who live within the burn area that there was still work to be done before they could return.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said it wasn’t safe for people to return home until roads and downed power lines were repaired.
Additionally, the death of two unidentified people trying to flee the fire was still being investigated. Maketa said he was in no rush to have people return to an area that, at least for now, was still being considered a crime scene.
“I’m not going to compromise the evidence by allowing people in too soon,” he said.
Those with property in the burn area have returned briefly with escorts to check on their property or to pick up items, but some were then refusing to leave once they were done, Maketa said. He urged fire victims to cooperate or risk being arrested.
Trudy Dawson, 59, was at work when the fire broke out Tuesday and quickly spread in record-breaking heat and strong winds. Her daughter, Jordan Dawson, 25, who was on her way from Denver to visit, spotted the smoke, called her mother and went to the house.
With only 30 minutes to evacuate, she only had time to find a family cat and to open a corral gate so the horses could flee.
Jordan and two adult siblings went to the property the next day with a sheriff’s escort and found the horses, unhurt, standing in their corral.
“It was just skeletons of vehicles and ash everywhere. It’s haunting. It looks like it’s right out of a horror movie,” Jordan Dawson said.
It’s unknown what sparked the blaze, but investigators believe it was human-caused and have asked for help from the state and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as they sift through the ash.
The fire only a few miles away from the state’s second-most destructive wildfire, the Waldo Canyon Fire, which burned last summer.
The memory of that fire might have made residents especially appreciative of firefighters. Large crowds have been turning out to line the road and cheer crews as they return from the lines.
In Canon City, 50 miles to the southwest, a wildfire that destroyed 48 buildings at the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is fully contained. A lightning-sparked fire in Rocky Mountain National Park has burned about 600 acres and was 75 percent contained.
In western Colorado, a 500-acre wildfire burning north of Rifle is 60 percent contained. It was started Friday by a smoldering lightning strike.
In New Mexico, crews have contained the majority of the 94 square miles of wildfires raging throughout the state. The largest fire, the 37-square-mile Thompson Ridge Fire, was 80 percent contained. The 35-square-mile Silver Fire in southern New Mexico’s Gila National Forest showed little signs of rapid growth despite drier conditions. The fire hasn’t burned into the historic mining town of Kingston, but crews worked over the weekend to protect it.
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report from Denver.