Colorado Wildfire Scene "Like a Nuclear Bomb Went Off," Sheriff Says

Jun 15, 2013 5:23 PM

CBS News- Firefighters "are getting the upper hand" on the most destructive wildfire in state history as crews expanded containment with no new houses lost, a Colorado sheriff says.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa also say officials are beginning to see the grim landscape the wildfire has left behind and some areas in the blaze's path looked "like a nuclear bomb went off." Because of that, Maketa said Saturday afternoon it's difficult for officials know what used to be homes or other structures.

The fire that exploded Tuesday outside of Colorado Springs has destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed 2 people who appeared ready to flee. Containment is at 45 percent. It's unknown what sparked the blaze.

Most mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted.

Among the destroyed houses are five houses owned by three generations of the Vialpando family, who lived in Black Forest so they could be next-door neighbors.

"I'm shocked. I'm just in shock." Bonnie Vialpando-Kruse said.

""There's nothing. I have nothing. My everything is gone. My older brother's everything is gone. My younger sister's everything is gone. There is absolutely nothing out there that's tangible," James Vialpando said.

When the Black Forest, a thickly wooded rural region north of Colorado Springs, began to burn, authorities swiftly evacuated tens of thousands of people from an area larger than the Denver metropolitan area.

They immediately began hand-counting destroyed houses to get information out to nervous homeowners. And they rushed federal troops and aircraft into action, cutting the red tape that had grounded those resources a year ago as smoke clouds billowed over Colorado.

Within an hour, El Paso County had its emergency operations center up and running and summoned aircraft from nearby Peterson Air Force base. Rep. Doug Lamborn called the federal center in Idaho that coordinates western firefighting to speed up the process of clearing the planes. Gov. John Hickenlooper mobilized the Colorado National Guard, and troops began to help secure the rapidly growing evacuation zone.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation, but Maketa said authorities believe it was human-caused.

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