Separate wildfires fanned by strong winds destroyed eight homes, forced hundreds of people to flee and led to flight cancellations and a shelter-in-place order at the Colorado Springs Airport on Thursday. No injuries were reported, though officials said a search of the burned homes was ongoing.
Firefighters were called to the Skylark Mobile Home Park, 3831 N. Cascade Ave., about noon, and arrived to find three homes fully engulfed, according to Colorado Springs Fire Department spokesman Lt. Aaron McConnellogue. High winds and explosions from propane tanks — some that sent flames 50 feet in the air — helped the fire spread to nearby units, he said.
The resulting fire — which was extinguished by roughly 2:30 p.m. — was one of three that broke out in the city Thursday amid high fire danger.
One of the fires led to a shelter-in-place order at the Colorado Springs Airport, but the order was lifted as of 6:30 p.m., the airport said in a tweet. Inbound flights resumed about 8 p.m.
A grass fire in the 6700 block of Akerman Drive in the Stetson Hills neighborhood led to the evacuation of 500 homes, affecting roughly 1,000 people, officials said. The Akerman fire broke out shortly after 11 a.m. in an open space separating two densely populated neighborhoods. It grew to roughly 30 acres before firefighters stopped it from spreading, and the evacuations were lifted by the afternoon. The fire was considered 100% contained Thursday night. No homes burned. Firefighters were to remain through the night to patrol for flare-ups.
“With limited resources with other fires that were happening at the exact same time, that certainly creates challenges for us,” McConnellogue said in discussing the fire at the Skylark Mobile Home Park.
McConnellogue said firefighters had yet to thoroughly search the burned homes.
“Right now we are still making sure that we have everyone accounted for,” he said.
A mobile home park resident told The Colorado Sun he feared for the safety of a neighbor, who he said became trapped in a burning home.
Steve Kaye said he heard a woman screaming, “Help me! Help me!” from a nearby trailer as the fire broke out. He ran to try to get the woman out, but her door was engulfed in flames, he said, and soon her entire home became swallowed in flames — apparently with her in it. Kaye’s account couldn’t immediately be verified.
Connie Butterworth, property manager for Emerald Acres Mobile Home Park, adjacent to Skylark on Cascade Avenue, said she saw a 20-foot flame shooting up in the air about 11:30 a.m. The northern half of Emerald Acres, which has 112 homes, was told to evacuate and she, along with other residents, knocked on doors and helped about six residents get out of their homes, she said. Many of the residents in the park are retired, she said.
“It was pretty scary. I am glad my residents are safe,” Butterworth said.
The cause and origin of the fire at Skylark Mobile Home Park remain under investigation.
By 4 p.m., crews were battling a new grass fire — called the Alturas fire — at Milton E. Proby Parkway and Powers Boulevard, near the Colorado Springs Airport at the city’s southeastern edge. The fire closed Powers Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, in both directions, and the airport was put on notice to evacuate if necessary, officials said. A helicopter helped fight the fire, according to a photo on Twitter.
The Regional Partners Incident Command assisted in battling the flames, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet.
The fire was estimated at 182 acres and was 15% contained as of 9:45 p.m. Thursday, according to a fire department tweet, which said firefighters would patrol through the night for flare-ups and hot spots. Powers Boulevard remained closed as of 7:40 p.m.
The Alturas fire was apparently sparked by an El Paso County sheriff’s patrol vehicle, sheriff’s spokeswoman Deborah Mynatt said. The deputy was investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle and drove into a grassy field, where the car got stuck. As the deputy tried to get the car free, the grass caught fire and flames enveloped the patrol car before the fire raced into the field, she said.
Mynatt blamed the car’s catalytic converter, but said the fire department will investigate the fire’s cause. The deputy was not injured, she said.
In addition to the fires in Colorado Springs, a wildfire that sparked west of Cripple Creek in Teller County on Thursday evening also led to an evacuation order.
The High Park fire was burning near Teller County Road 11 and Lakemoor Drive.
All nearby residents, including those in the Lakemoor subdivision, were ordered to leave the area immediately, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet.
By 11 p.m., the fire had grown to 400 acres and was zero percent contained, the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post. Fire crews would continue their work through the night, the post said.
The fires came amid heavy winds gusting to 50 mph, creating “extremely dangerous conditions,” the National Weather Service in Pueblo said in a tweet.
Colorado officials have warned that 2022 could be the worst wildfire season in the state’s history. Above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation are predicted across the state through June, deepening a severe drought and placing more of the state at risk.