orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

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June 14, 2013

Crews battling Colo. wildfire hold flames in check

(Continued)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. —

"We've done it all before and so there was no question," said Nicola Sapp, El Paso County budget officer. "Everybody jumped right in."

The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

Before the fire got out of hand, authorities evacuated people miles away, sending deputies door-to-door to ensure everyone left. They remembered the speed at which last year's fire spread.

"That's one thing I'll never forget — how fast that Waldo Canyon Fire moved," said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who was bowled over by how rapidly help arrived this week.

The latest blaze raced through the rural reaches of the metro area, doubling in size overnight and charring at least 400 homes. The bodies of two people were found inside their garage Thursday, their car doors open as if they had been about to flee.

Some Waldo Canyon evacuees endured days without knowing whether their houses survived. So Maketa sent deputies in at night to survey neighborhoods. It was a painstaking, risky process as ashes smoldered around them while they strained to determine the addresses of charred properties. About 24 hours later, the department began releasing the addresses of houses that were lost.

It might take two weeks to get a perfect count, but the sheriff decided to err on the side of rapidly releasing information.

"I'd rather disappoint one person, but get it right to another thousand," Maketa said.

On Friday, firefighters were aided by some rainfall in the burn area.

Hickenlooper toured the zone and said he was happily drenched.

"I'm soaking wet and I'm a little chilly, but I've never been so happy to say this," he said.

The fire zone remained at 25 square miles, thanks to lighter winds and firefighters' efforts to stamp out flare-ups. Sheriff's deputies patrolling for looters directed crews to dozens of hot spots.

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