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Prisoners evacuated as fires rage in Colorado

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 12:27 PM EDT, Wed June 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 905 prisoners evacuated as a precaution
  • There are five fires in the state, officials with the emergency management division say
  • NEW: El Paso County Sheriff expected "unpredictable conditions"
  • At least 3,600 people had been evacuated, officials say

(CNN) -- Fires in east central Colorado has forced a prison to evacuate 905 inmates, according to a state corrections department spokeswoman.

The majority of the inmates are "special needs," Alison Morgan told CNN Wednesday, meaning they receive medical treatment. Because it's usually a time-consuming process to move inmates, the inmates at Colorado Territorial Correctional facility began transitioning to Centennial Correctional facility at about midnight Tuesday and finished at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Morgan said.

The spokeswoman stressed that the inmates were moved as a precaution and the fire has not reached Colorado Territorial Correctional facility which is located on Highway 50 in Canon City, southwest of Colorado Springs.

But the fires are moving fast as winds are expected to pick up throughout the day, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said at press conference Wednesday morning.

Colorado struggles with wildfires
Weather fanning flames across Colorado

"We have some very unpredictable conditions," he said. Authorities' "priorities are saving lives - protecting the first responders and firefighters."

There have been no injuries among responders, he said.

Meanwhile, back-up is coming in. Rescue workers are getting more helicopters and National Guard troops are relieving law enforcement workers who have been working non-stop, Maketa said.

By Wednesday more than 3,600 residents were evacuated as the flames burned quickly through dry timber. There could be as many as 80 homes damaged or destroyed, Maketa said.

Low humidity, high temperatures and fast wind gusts helped the fire grow quickly to 400 acres and caused officials to issue evacuation orders for more than 2,500 homes.

Not everyone had heeded the evacuation order, said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. Others were having trouble getting out.

"We have some folks that were having difficulty," he said. "We are focused on our elderly population that may have difficulty moving, and people trying to move animals out. It has gone from an evac to somewhat of a search and rescue."

Later Tuesday, the sheriff's office tweeted that 1,260 homes have been evacuated.

Maketa said that some people who had originally indicated they wouldn't evacuate had called to ask for help.

There have been no reported fatalities among residents, he reiterated Wednesday.

The largest burning fire -- known as the Black Forest Fire -- is in rural Colorado, just northeast of Colorado Springs. The area is heavily wooded and many of the homes are on large parcels of land.

On Wednesday Fort Carson firefighters joined firefighting efforts south of Colorado Springs and is also supporting firefighting efforts in the Black Forest area with bulldozer and air support.

Maketa said he was concerned that firefighting assets would be split between the fire and others burning in the state. He said that a formal request for more help has been placed with the state.

The rapidly growing Royal Gorge Fire grew to 3,800 acres by Tuesday evening, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management said. Three structures were confirmed lost.

CNN affiliate KKTV spoke to a farmer who lived close to the flames.

"I'm watching the flames just fly up the mountain, burst these dried trees and then die down," the farmer said. The fire was moving away from his farm, he said, but he said that there wasn't a lot of fuel for a fire because much of it had withered away.

The cause of both fires are under investigation, officials said.

There were two other smaller fires burning in Huerfano and Grand counties, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management indicated on a map on its website.

The latter fire was caused by lightning in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The blaze was only several acres in size and hadn't grown much in spite of the high winds, park officials said on their website.

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