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Wildfire sparked near Fort Carson suddenly quadruples to 2,800 acres Sunday night

By CHHUN SUN | The Gazette (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 9, 2018

A seemingly moderate wildfire on Fort Carson suddenly exploded to 2,800 acres within a few hours Sunday night, Army officials said.

But the blaze was 80 percent contained by 8:30 p.m., they said, and firefighters planned to monitor the area through the night.

The fire was reported about 1 p.m. at the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex near Fort Carson’s Gate 20.

At 4:30 p.m., the fire had scorched about 700 acres and forced an hours-long closure of southbound Interstate 25 between Mesa Ridge Parkway and Santa Fe Avenue exits.

Its sudden spread occurred when the fire, which had been heading southwest, circled back to its starting point, Fort Carson spokeswoman Peggy Martinez said.

“Given the winds ... it was hard to get in front of it,” said Army spokeswoman Dee McNutt. “The winds were changing and moving in direction very quickly.”

Practice gunfire at metal targets ignited the blaze at the complex, which has been open to civilians for five years, McNutt said.

The property belongs to Fort Carson but is not on the post.

About 20 homes and businesses near I-25 were placed on precautionary evacuation status as the fire burned. The status later was lifted, and no one had to leave their homes.

The blaze initially was reported as being small and nearly extinguished, but it grew as wind speeds picked up.

Winds of 10 to 18 mph about 1 p.m., with gusts up to 30 mph, “probably helped propel things a little bit” with the wildfire, said Randy Gray, a meteorological technician for the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

The fire burned rolling hills, brush and trees southwest of the shooting range.

Firefighters from Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Colorado Springs Utilities as well as four other agencies helped the military battle the fire.

Despite Saturday’s rainfall, which amounted to about four-10ths of an inch on the Army post, the area still is experiencing a “groundwater, vegetation deficit” of moisture, Gray said.

Last month, Fort Carson was blasted for staging live-fire training March 16, a day with a high fire danger warning from the National Weather Service.

The activity sparked a fire that burned 3,300 acres, destroyed two homes and prompted the evacuation of hundreds of area residents.

The fire was extinguished March 22.

The post’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Randy George, later said realistic training exercises for soldiers must be balanced with the safety of the community.

More than 100 acres burned in February 2015 at the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex, the same site where Sunday’s fire was sparked.

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©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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