Residents stunned after Ordway fire claims lives
ORDWAY, Colo. (AP) ” Stunned residents surveyed the smoldering ruins of their homes on Wednesday after a fast-moving wildfire swept through parts of this tiny farm town on Colorado’s eastern plains, killing two volunteer firefighters, scorching 14 square miles of grassland and forcing hundreds of people to flee.
The Ordway fire was 90 percent contained. But a 15-square-mile blaze raged nearly out of control on a remote part of the Army’s Fort Carson after claiming the life of a firefighting pilot. And in the mountains of western Colorado, a third fire burned about 1 1/2 square miles, damaged two buildings and slightly injured a fisherman.
Leading into town, utility poles were destroyed, power lines and electrical transformers dangled precariously in the air, and grain storage facilities were blackened.
“How can I describe it? It’s really heartbreaking,” said Arthur Montanez Jr., 50, of Ordway, who lost his house and two pet dogs to Tuesday’s fire. “We worked our butts off to get this place. We spent our last six years to make this our home. And just in a short time for it to be like this, it’s shocking.”
“It was a very fast, hot fire,” Coroner Karen Tomky said. “There was a lot of sand, and a lot of wind.”
All 1,200 residents of Ordway, about 120 miles southeast of Denver, were ordered to leave as the fire bore down on the town from the west, pushed by 50-mph winds. The cause was unknown.
Eight homes were destroyed, state Sen. Ken Kester said. In all, the fire damaged at least 24 buildings, fire information officer Katherine Sanguinetti reported.
By Wednesday, dying winds and rising humidity helped firefighters gain ground. Forecasters said rain and snow could fall by Wednesday night.
Volunteer firefighters John Schwartz, 38, and Terry Devore, 30, died when their fire truck plunged into a ravine under a bridge that had been damaged by flames. It wasn’t immediately clear if the bridge collapsed while the pair were on it or had fallen earlier.
Schwartz and Devore were corrections officers at a state prison outside Ordway and members of the Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department. Schwartz is survived by three children and Devore is survived by a wife and four children.
The Fort Carson blaze, about 60 miles south of Denver, was only 10 percent contained by midday Wednesday, forcing as many as 800 people to leave their homes. The cause was unknown.
Two shelters were set up at the Army post and a third at a nearby community college for evacuees.
A single-engine plane crashed after dumping fire-retardant slurry on the blaze Tuesday, killing the pilot, Gert Marais, 42, of Fort Benton, Mont., said Fort Carson spokesman Maj. Sean Ryan.
Marais worked for a Sterling, Colo., company that supplies aerial firefighting services to the Colorado State Forest Service, Ryan said. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating.
Bob Behram sat at a roadblock outside Fort Carson Wednesday, waiting for permission to retrieve horses, a mule and a donkey left behind when he fled his home Tuesday.
“I only need about 30 minutes,” he said. “I could’ve had them loaded and gone by now.”
The third fire was burning near Carbondale in the western Colorado mountains, about 120 miles west of Denver. It was about 70 percent contained, and most area residents were returning to their homes Wednesday. That blaze, too, was under investigation.
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