June 18, 2008

3 Wildfires Burn Hundreds of Acres East of Springs

By The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jun. 18--Three wildfires scorched hundreds of acres of pastureland and destroyed two buildings on the plains east of Colorado Springs this afternoon, authorities said.

No one was hurt.

Officials offered sketchy reports on the types of buildings that burned. Lt. Lari Sevene of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said they included a barn and a second outbuilding, possibly a corral. She had said one building was an unoccupied house but later withdrew that report. Fire agencies are working on an estimate of the land the blaze covered, which could be up to 1,000 acres.

Fire crews are fighting the blazes in an area east of Peyton near Colorado Highway 24. A Peyton businesswoman said she saw three lightning bolts hit the ground about 1:30 p.m., and fire immediately started smoldering. The fire spread unchecked until about 2:30 p.m., said Beverly Zirkle, owner of the Peyton General Store and Stage Coach Liquor.

It left a patchwork of darkened earth on the pastureland. "The flames were 2 or 3 feet high at first, but as it engulfed (the grass) all you could see was the black smoke," Zirkle said.

Several houses were evacuated, and El Paso County Sheriff's deputies blocked traffic on Highway 24 at Peyton Highway and Murphy Road at Peyton Highway.

The fires are south of Murphy Road between Peyton Highway to the west and Smith Ranch Road to the east. No flames were showing at about 5 p.m., but Sevene cautioned that doesn't mean firefighters have won the battle.

"Just because you don't see flames doesn't mean that a quick gust of wind won't flare it up," she said.

Peyton is about 25 miles northeast of Colorado Springs on Hwy. 24. The tiny Peyton Fire Protection District is responsible for putting out blazes in the area. The district called for help from neighboring departments including Calhan, Falcon, El Paso County Wildland, Ellicott and Black Forest. Firefighters were coping with wind gusts in the 15-20 mph range and low humidity.

Kerry Kantor, who lives near Peyton, watched the fire from the road near her house. She said she didn't see flames threatening any structures. "I can see the smoke coming over the ridge," Kantor said. "It is open range, and the cattle are out in the range. So that is a concern for me because the cattle are out there."

Wildfires spark periodically on the grass-covered plains and bluffs east of Colorado Springs. A fire on May 10 swept across about 18 miles from Colorado Highway 94 west of Ellicott to the Hanover area. In August 2000, a fire burned about two acres near Sweet Road and Bradshaw Road, a couple of miles from the area burning today.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.

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