As the wind-fueled flames crept closer, Black Forest residents gathered their animals and most cherished possessions and headed north.
Urgent mandatory evacuation notices were issued June 12 and 13 with such abruptness that some people were unable to return home to load up their pets and livestock. Many animals escaped with their lives thanks to the kindness of firefighters and neighbors who cut fences so the creatures would not be trapped. Other volunteers traveled from Franktown, Parker and Elizabeth with horse trailers to see if they could lend a helping hand.
Dozens of horses were taken to the Colorado Horse Park, just south of Parker, and others were brought to the Elbert County Fairgrounds, where volunteers who had worked the previous weekend at the Elizabeth Stampede were pitching in.
As of the afternoon of June 17, firefighters had the Black Forest Fire 75 percent contained. But nearly 500 homes were destroyed and 14,300 acres were scorched, which means some will never be able to go home. It was the largest of the wildfires that flared up due in part to extremely dry conditions and high winds. An exact cause has not been determined.
The fire came dangerously close to entering Douglas County, and the pre-evacuation area extended near the edge of Castlewood Canyon State Park until the threat subsided June 15.
Pet shops and boarding facilities in Parker and Castle Rock were especially busy on June 13 and 14 with customers buying food for evacuated pets.
The Colorado Horse Park, equipped with several water trucks, is in an area that has experienced wildfires throughout the years.
“This is our second-go-round at a pretty major catastrophe here in Colorado,” said Brian Curry, vice president of Colorado Horse Park. “Two years ago we had the Burning Tree Fire. We had trailers lined up from around the main entrance in and around the barns. We had more trailers than horses. It was kind of neat to see that many people come together to help. We were able to extract 100-plus horses to this facility in 45 minutes.”
The post-fire response is almost as impressive as the evacuation assistance. Organizers of the 2013 Solheim Cup decided to donate 15 percent of ticket sales for the remainder of June to the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters Foundation, which aids firefighters and their families. With the fire raging 20 miles to the south, officials with the international women’s golf tournament event felt the need to give back.
The donation is “our way of saying ‘thank you,’” said Solheim Cup Tournament Director Becky Newell.