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The Firefight: Black Forest Fire 10 years later and how the fire moved

Posted at 3:50 PM, Jun 15, 2023

EL PASO COUNTY — The combination of the wind pushing flames into the thick brush and trees of Black Forest was a worst-case wildfire scenario.

Ten years ago the Black Forest Fire burned close to 14-thousand acres and destroyed close to 500 homes.

A Timeline of the Black Forest Fire

A decade later the impact of the fire on locals continues.

“We get bombarded with calls. If there is smoke in the area, if there's a fire nearby,” said Black Forest Fire Department, Deputy Chief Chris Piepenburg.

The devastating Black Forest Fire happened just one year after the nearby Waldo Canyon fire, on the other side of the county.

“Geographically located, okay, that's where the similarities end,” said Federal Type One Incident Commander, Rich Harvey.

Harvey flew in to take over as Incident Commander on the Black Forest Fire after the fire grew to such size and complexity, that it required a federal Type One Incident Team.

It was not on purpose, but he was the incident commander a year earlier at the Waldo Canyon Fire.

The Black Forest fire required dealing with homes, businesses, and livestock. All integrated into the very thick forest.

“It was almost a two-prong approach,” said Harvey, “Stop the forward progress but protect the stuff behind it that was not damaged in the initial passage of the flaming front.”

There was a secondary threat to structures after the large first flames passed what Harvey calls, the “dirty” fire.

“There was a lot of action behind the flaming front where we had to come in and do the dirty work to mop up, you know to make sure that nothing that was behind the flaming front was able to take out structures.”

Boots on the ground for firefighters grew to 750.

Private, state, and federal air support offered evidence of the massive firefighting effort.

Harvey said aid from Fort Carson soldiers was extraordinary and welcomed.

“They're not used to working in our system, but those boys can fly--I will tell you that. And, as soon as our guys figured out that if we could describe the mission to [them] that they were going to execute it. “

The challenges the firefighters faced were heavy wind, dry conditions, and very thick tall trees near hundreds of homes.

Then, add afternoon thunderstorms that had the potential to cause more starts.

Harvey said the shifting wind from a thunderstorm could also help.

“The advantage of a gusty erratic wind is that it can push the fire back on itself so that the thunderstorms are fighting against those prevailing winds a little bit.”

The strategy was a point-by-point approach looking for places to take away heat and energy from the flames one spot at a time.

“You're trying to find places where you can break it up right and steal some of its intensity,” said Harvey.

Nine days after it started the fire’s progress was stopped.

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