BLACK FOREST, Colo. - Most of us have only seen the Black Forest Fire from a distance. On Friday, authorities allowed local media to tour the burn zone.
The media got an up-close look at the damage caused by the fire. In many areas, just piles of rubble or shells of homes remain. Several families were out sifting through debris and trying to salvage what they could.
During the two-hour bus tour, the media also saw power lines down and utility crews scrambling to make repairs. Many of the burned homes were built along narrow dirt roads.
Lt. Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said one of the toughest jobs for authorities was to distinguish property lines to confirm the addresses of destroyed homes.
"When you looked at some of the devastation, it was unclear on whether or not you might be looking at a structure that was lived in, versus perhaps an outbuilding," he said. "So you weren't sure how to count that on the list, so to speak. In fact, we're still fine-tuning that list, so it could go up or down."
Sure enough, on Friday afternoon authorities increased the number of destroyed homes from 509 to 511.
Kramer said mitigation -- clearing defensible space around property -- helped limit the fire damage. He said where homeowners mitigated, the fire burned to the edge of the lawn and went no farther.
"The homes that were burned had fuels or flammables closer to the homes or up against them," he said.
Kramer said few homes in the Cathedral Pines subdivision burned because the county required the developer to mitigate before construction. A similar requirement could be ahead for contractors and developers rebuilding after the fire.
Black Forest Regional Park was undamaged because of years of mitigation efforts, Kramer said.
One surprise from the fire was the discovery that a bright red 1968 Ford Galaxy 500 convertible, parked in a small shelter, emerged virtually undamaged while everything around it -- including the shelter -- was destroyed.
"How do you explain that? I don't know," said owner Ben Robinette, a firefighter at Fort Carson. "You could see it, just a red dot from a helicopter view. When (my kids) saw it, they were ecstatic. They don't have anything left, so this is what we can do as a family thing."
Despite Robinette's happiness about his car, he reflected on his other lost possessions.
"My great-granddaddy's gun, my wife's grandmother's china, bracelets you can't replace. Stuff that you don't think about until you start writing it down for insurance companies."
Authorities advise against sightseeing in Black Forest after traffic returns to normal on Saturday morning. They want to prevent traffic congestion that would interfere with utility crews and residents cleaning up on their properties.
Meanwhile, investigations into the cause of the fire, and the deaths of two people unable to escape, continue.