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Residents in path of Black Forest fire remain resolute, hopeful

The Black Forest fire raging in Colorado is now the state's most destructive wildfire ever.

Thousands of people fearful for their homes, a group of camping Boy Scouts, a cluster of baby deer and valuable livestock have all been plucked from the path of Colorado's most destructive wildfire.

The Black Forest fire has chewed its way through 25 square miles of thickly wooded residential areas outside Colorado Springs, killing two people, destroying 419 homes and forcing 38,000 people to evacuate.

Authorities inched closer to curbing the flames Friday afternoon, bringing containment to 30 percent. Evacuation orders for thousands of those forced to flee were lifted, according to local reports.

For people whose whole lives and livelihoods are in the neighborhoods bright with orange flames, all they could do was wait to see if their homes have been reduced to ash.

Among the families waiting are the members of the close-knit Vialpando clan.


Members of the family own six homes in a wooded enclave swept by the fire, where Mike and Frances Vialpando moved in 1962 and raised their family, they told the Colorado Springs Gazette. The family fled their homes Tuesday as flames encroached.

They didn’t know what had happened to their homes as of Thursday night, they told the paper, but Mike Vialpando said: “I’m not going anywhere else.”

Ed Andrieski / AP

Michelle Andree, right, gets a hug from her friend Phelan Warren before head into the Black Forest fire area to rescue animals on Thursday, June 13, 2013.

Authorities have encouraged anyone within the mandatory evacuation zone to depart the area immediately.

The bodies of two people who appeared to be preparing to flee their home were recovered, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said Friday.

“It appears as though the individuals were in the garage, the car doors were open as though they were loading or grabbing last minute things, and all indications are from the evidence on scene that they were planning to depart very quickly,” Maketa said.

Suzanne Watson watched on TV as her home was swallowed up by the Black Forest fire. On Thursday, she was one of about 100 homeowners who queued up at the El Paso County Disaster Assistance Center, where counselors and other aid services have been made available, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.

The Red Cross said it sheltered 800 people across Colorado on Wednesday night, according to its website. The aid organization said it sent caseworkers to assist people driven from their homes in El Paso County as the Black Forest fire continued to spread.

The U.S. Air Force Academy, located just north of Colorado Springs, opened its Airman and Family Readiness Center on Thursday to assist evacuees.

Hundreds of evacuated livestock, including horses and other farm animals, were led out of the fire zone by their owners and volunteers like Kerry Brill, who donated hay and wheelbarrows to the ad hoc rescue effort.

Firefighters are making progress in battling a deadly blaze that has become the most destructive wildfire in Colorado's history. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports from the frontlines where firefighters are holding their ground. So far, two lives have been lost in the wildfire.

“People need some help right now. It’s chaos. It’s a problem, and I have the ability to help a little bit,” Brill told NBC News affiliate KUSA.

Also among the evacuees was group of fawns in the path of the fire who were taken from the area by wildlife officials.

“Some of these animals that are being transferred were picked up out of peoples’ yards,” state Parks and Wildlife spokesman Michael Seraphin told local NBC affiliate KOAA.

Among those who fled was a group of Boy Scouts, including a troop from Bellaire, Texas, who left all their belongings at their camp site as they escaped to a Red Cross shelter.

Scouts were evacuated as precautionary measure from the Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch on Wednesday after sirens went off at lunch time. They were taken to fairgrounds in Elbert County, and about 300 out-of-state Scouts were sheltered there overnight, according to a statement from the Boy Scouts of America Denver Area Council.

“We might not even get full merit badges for the week, because we missed classes today,” Eagle Scout Blake Giles from Edmond, Okla., told the Denver Post. “We’ll see how things turn out. Hopefully, the wind blows in the right direction.”

The same area outside Colorado Springs was swept last year by what had been the most destructive wildfire in state history. The Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes and killed two people in late June and early July of 2012.

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