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Wildfire destroys scores of homes

COLORADO SPRINGS — A fierce, wind-whipped wildfire destroyed more than 90 homes and menaced additional communities in and around Colorado’s second-largest city yesterday, forcing thousands of residents to flee.

The fast-moving fire raged out of control for a second day through heavily wooded rolling hillsides on the northeastern outskirts of Colorado Springs, devouring more houses into the evening as winds sent flames doubling back into areas already burned, authorities said.

“Properties that we identified as standing are now engulfed in flames so the numbers are changing as we speak,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

Jeff Stemas, 44, who fled with his wife, three dogs, a file cabinet and a computer as flames neared their house on Tuesday, learned on Wednesday from a website set up to track property losses that their home was among those destroyed.

“It’s a total loss,” he said with quiet resignation, shrugging his shoulders. “But I expected it.”

The Black Forest blaze, named for the community near where it began, prompted authorities to order more than 7,000 people from their homes, while a separate, smaller fire about 50 miles to the southwest forced the evacuation of 900 inmates from a state prison.

No injuries were reported in either fire.

Governor John Hickenlooper signed executive orders on Wednesday declaring “disaster emergencies” that set aside more than $10 million for costs related to those two fires and a third, smaller blaze about 90 miles south of Colorado Springs.

By evening, the Black Forest fire had charred an estimated 8,500 acres and was expected to scorch at least a further 3,000 acres, defying efforts by some 500 firefighters to contain it. (Reuters)

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