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Fire evacuations ease in Elbert County

Only El Paso County families remain at Kiowa shelter

Elbert County Eases Wildfire Evacuations

KIOWA, Colo. - In Elbert County, only a small southwestern section remains under a mandatory evacuation order for the Black Forest Wildfire.

As of noon Friday, the order affected residents residing between County Road 74 (the south Elbert County line), County Road 86 and west of North Elbert Road.  Those living in all other areas of the county were allowed to return home under a pre-evacuation status, meaning residents should be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.

Kara Gerczynski, a public information officer for the Red Cross evacuation center at the county fairgrounds in Kiowa, said the fire is burning around two miles south of the county line, and about 15 miles south of Kiowa.

"Firefighters made some fire lines there," she said.  "They're still watching the area closely, but there's no active firefighting going on."

Gerczynski said only 10 families -- all from northern El Paso County -- are staying at the shelter.

"They were worried about other shelters being crowded, and our is closer to them," she said.

Gerczynski said an estimated 800 people arrived at the shelter when it opened Wednesday night as the fire appeared to be moving toward Elbert County.  However, she said, most of them were Boy Scouts evacuated from a camp in the nearby town of Elbert.  All the Scouts left the area Friday.

Many local evacuees, she said, felt the shelter would be too crowded with the Boy Scouts, and decided to stay in motels or in their vehicles.

One of those evacuees, Joe Portis, said he and his wife didn't receive a Reverse 911 call alerting them to evacuate, and that they learned of the situation by watching KRDO NewsChannel 13.

"We're not on Google," said Portis.  "Our street doesn't exist.  Maybe we just got dropped off."

Portis said he's now on the 911 list after registering for it a second time.

Gerczynski said she's not aware of anyone else failing to receive a 911 notification.

Four hundred animals, all owned by El Paso County evacuees, remain at the shelter, said Gerczynski, and some animals are unclaimed.  She said owners should contact the El Paso County Sheriff's Office for information on unclaimed animals.

Gerczynski said the remaining evacuees likely will spend a few more days at the shelter until evacuations are lifted in El Paso County.

"Some of those people don't have TVs and have no way to keep up with what's happening," she said.  "It's important for us to let them know."

Many of the remaining evacuees are living in recreational vehicles parked beside the shelter, and not sleeping in cots provided at the shelter.

Except for a fire last year, wildfires and evacuations are unusual for the small town.

"I was concerned when we first arrived here," said Portis.  "I asked our builder what happens if there's a fire, because it didn't seem like there were a lot of fire trucks.  He said everyone around here has a bulldozer.  That's (not) reassuring."

Now that most evacuees have returned home, Portis says he'll continue preparing for his mother's 90th birthday next week.

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