BLACK FOREST, Colo. - Two people were killed as a wind-whipped wildfire burned out of control for a third day Thursday, destroying 360 homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 38,000 people, authorities said.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the remains of two people were found in a burned area.
Authorities ordered residents of 1,000 homes in the nearby city of Colorado Springs to evacuate Thursday and told residents of another 2,000 homes to be prepared to leave. About 38,000 people outside the city already have been evacuated.
Photos: Colorado wildfire blazes for days
The number of lost homes was a dramatic increase from Wednesday evening, when 92 homes were listed as destroyed.
The blaze in the Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs is now the most destructive in Colorado history, surpassing last year's Waldo Canyon fire, which burned 347 home and killed two people, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.
It was still uncontained and one of three wildfires burning out of control in Colorado.
Some of the homes that were previously listed as standing were destroyed as high winds pushed the 23-square-mile wildfire back into areas that had already burned, Maketa said. Deputies still have not been able to verify the condition of 79 other homes, so the losses could rise, he said.
Black Forest resident Michael Miller, who evacuated Tuesday night, said he hopes to go home soon and check on the dogs he had to leave behind.
"Five hundred yards from my house, the flames were probably 20 feet above the trees," Miller said. "I know they're not letting any people back in there."
Dee Ozburn owns a campground in nearby Falcon that was busy with families fleeing the fire. "I am overfilled now with evacuees," she said. "We're putting people in our field and everywhere else, and right now, I am overwhelmed."
Deanna Ronco, 40, of Black Forest, learned Wednesday night that the home her family evacuated a day earlier had been destroyed.
"The sad part is it's not even over,'' she said. "My kids were at friends', but my husband and I, we got a hotel room last night because we needed time to ourselves to grieve the life we built for ourselves these last 18 years.''
Black Forest, named for its thick growth of Ponderosa Pines, is about 20 miles from Colorado Springs, the state's second largest city. .
Anne O'Neill, who lives on the edge of the forest, said she was surprised to received the evacuation order and cleared out, with her pets, at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"We have a number of dogs, so just checking into a motel wasn't an option,'' she said. "We ended up at a friend's house.''
Dave Mersman, an executive at Keller Homes in the Briargate section of Colorado Springs, said he was following fire updates in his office a few miles from the fire. He said residents are staying alert in case the fire comes closer.
"Everybody's just highly concerned, and it's just a very unknown situation," Mersman said. "There's a lot of smoke in the air, and the situation is just completely uncontained."
PHOTO GALLERY: Colorado on fire
Sheriff's officials evacuated part of neighboring Elbert County, including two camps with about 1,250 children and adults. Bits of ash and the smell of smoke drifted into Denver, about 60 miles to the north, where the haze blocked the sun.
No injuries or deaths have been reported, but Maketa said officials were trying to confirm the whereabouts of one person reported missing Wednesday. Firefighters tried to go where the person was last seen but were turned back twice because it was too hot, he said.
"People are scared, for sure,'' said Sharon Robertson, 42. "Everyone's worried that it's going to be like last year. It's sad.''
Lena Timpson, 60, of Briargate, said she and her family have closed up their house to keep the smoke out. They're listening for pre-evacuation orders in case they need to start packing, she said.
"After the Waldo Canyon fire last year, we're just very frustrated and nervous that we're going through this again a year later," Timpson said.
More than half of the state remained under high fire danger, according to a report from the National Weather Service in Denver.
"South to southwest winds will develop this afternoon, with gusts in the 20 to 30 mph range," the weather service forecast in an online bulletin. "This will create very high fire danger again, especially in areas south and southwest of Denver. The south winds will likely bring smoke from the black forest fire towards Denver again this afternoon."
Thursday was shaping up to be slightly cooler than Wednesday, the weather service said, with highs around 90 degrees. Friday will be another hot, dry day in Colorado, but cooler weather is expected over the weekend, which will feature a chance of thunderstorms and temperatures in the upper 80s.
Two other fires were raging in Colorado:
- A wildfire to the south had burned 3,100 acres and destroyed 20 structures, including some in Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. The blaze, about 20% contained, prompted evacuations of about 250 residents and nearly 1,000 inmates at a medium-security prison.
- Another fire burning on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park was estimated at 600 acres late Wednesday, an increase of 200 acres from the morning press briefing. At the time of the update, no containment had been established and no structures were threatened.
Blair Shiff reports for KUSA-TV in Denver. Contributing: Lauren Kirkwood, Steph Solis, Michael Auslen and William M. Welch, USA TODAY; Trevor Hughes, The Coloradoan in Fort Collins; Associated Press