(CNN) — Sad. Helpless. Shaken.
That’s how Morgan Pace felt as she drove past a large plume of smoke near her home in Monument, Colorado, which is about 20 miles north of Colorado Springs. It wasn’t an isolated fire, but a large and growing conflagration that has spurred thousands to flee their homes.
“It was just surreal,” said Pace, a CNN iReporter. “I know several people who live in Black Forest and were in the process of evacuating when I took this picture.”
Fear and anxiety were common Wednesday in much of central Colorado thanks not just to one but two major wildfires that have threatened lives and property.
The Black Forest Fire has affected Pace, a 38-year-old mother of four.
As of Wednesday afternoon, it had spread to 8,000 acres — none of which were considered “contained” — according to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.
“We have some very unpredictable conditions,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said on Wednesday. “Priorities are saving lives (including) protecting first responders and firefighters.”
Mandatory evacuation orders, which extend over a 55-square-mile area, affect about 7,350 people in more than 2,600 households.
But not everyone heeded the order, while others who wanted to — including the elderly and people with animals — were having trouble getting out quickly.
“It has gone from an evac to somewhat of a search and rescue,” Maketa said.
Thankfully, as of Wednesday morning, there were no reports of casualties. Still, at least two structures have been confirmed lost or damaged, with 40 to 60 more possibly meeting that fate.
Alicia Welch had two reasons to worry: Her son was out at a day camp before the flames forced them to head home, and her husband was still out hiking in another endangered area with Boy Scouts.
“He said that a lot of the boys, the Scouts he knew what was going on. The leaders care about their families and what’s going on at home,” Welch told CNN, her comments cut off as she broke down for a moment, overwhelmed with emotion.
The Royal Gorge Fire, meanwhile, is burning on the other side of Colorado Springs, about 55 miles to the southwest.
At about 3,800 acres, it was roughly half the size of the Black Forest Fire on Wednesday. But it likewise was 0% contained and had damaged at least three structures, the state office of emergency management reported.
It triggered the precautionary evacuation of some 905 inmates from the Centennial Correctional Facility, located in Canon City, between midnight and 9 a.m. Wednesday. Most of the inmates are “special needs” — meaning they receive medical treatment — said state corrections department spokeswoman Alison Morgan.
There were other fires in the state as well, including in Grand and Huerfano Counties. Statewide, officials warned that such blazes have proven tough to handle due to a combination of factors.
“Fire severity is extreme as reported in multiple areas,” the state office of emergency management said, “and fires are escaping initial attack, as evident by the number of large fires.”
By Ashley Fantz and Greg Botelho. CNN’s Ed Payne, Dave Alsup, Steve Almasy and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.
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