EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - The Black Forest Fire is now the most destructive fire in Colorado history, based on the number of homes lost, and today, it could get worse as high winds and high temperatures are expected.
The fire has destroyed 360 homes and 14 other homes have been partially damaged, according to El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa during a Thursday morning briefing. Maketa said homes at 79 other addresses could not be verified because of downed trees and fire activity.
"Those numbers are pretty staggering," Maketa said. "Homes we knew were standing yesterday I personally witnessed going down last night."
Maketa said about 20 deputies worked in dangerous conditions throughout the night to reverify that list.
"I know of two or three occasions where we actually had to pull our units out because they were getting trapped with the activity from this fire," Maketa said.
Last year's Waldo Canyon Fire had been the most destructive fire in Colorado history with 346 homes lost. That fire started June 23, 2012 and evacuations peaked at 32,000 on June 27, 2012. The Waldo Canyon Fire, also in the Colorado Springs area, burned 18,247 acres.
Maketa said the Black Forest Fire has now burned 15,000 acres. There is no containment.
"We are watching the weather conditions very closely," Maketa said. "The wind is probably our number one threat. The winds yesterday really stirred the fire and pushed it in quite a few different directions. We saw the fire travel quite a bit and saw quite a bit of devastation from it."
There is a Red Flag Warning for the area Thursday, said 24/7 Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson.
One person has been reported missing.
The evacuation area expanded early Thursday morning. It now covers 38,000 people in a 94,000 acre area. The new evacuation area is north and west of the Black Forest Fire. The boundaries now cover Highway 83 east to Eastonville Road, and Walker Road north to County Line Road.
Authorities also updated the voluntary evacuation area to all areas north of Old Ranch Road in Colorado Springs west to Interstate 25. (See evacuation map below or click here if you're on mobile: http://ch7ne.ws/10agjgQ
Emergency crews went door to door to to about 2,400 homes in the new evacuation zone, the El Paso County Sheriff's Department tweeted Thursday morning.
"We do have a very broad evacuation area," Maketa said. "That area to the north and what your seeing coming out of Douglas County and Elbert County is precautionary because of the fact of the way the winds are expected to blow. We just want to take every precaution to keep citizens safe at this point."
Investigators have already begun work to determine how the fire started. Maketa said arson investigators have started sifting through the ash and looking at burn patterns.
"[It's a] very exhaustive and time-consuming process," Maketa said.
Maketa did share some good news. He said 1,205 homes in the Black Forest area remain unaffected. Some of the homes are in the burn zone.
"We see where homes were lost, they were completely losses, and its series 6-8-10, and then you'll have one standing home," Maketa said.