El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa speaks during Sunday’s media briefing. EPC Commission Chair Dennis Hisey on the left. (L. Ruskin)

The Black Forest Fire is now 65% contained, yet thousands of displaced residents are still unable to go home, or see what remains of it. As KRCC’s Liz Ruskin reports, throngs of evacuees now come to the daily media briefings, and their frustrations are growing.

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El Paso County Commission Chair Dennis Hisey yesterday began describing plans for when residents will be allowed back in their homes. The county plans to supply drinking water, shovels, trash bags, even tetanus shots to keep people safe once they start what will be a massive cleanup. But Sheriff Terry Maketa tried to dial back the crowd’s expectations.

“I don’t want to create a false belief that tomorrow everybody’s going home, because that’s not going to happen. We have a crime scene in there. We have fire in there. We have downed powerlines in there. We have trees falling.”

Maketa says he’s allowed people in to retrieve medication or pets but some then refused to leave. He says he’ll arrest such residents if he has to.

After the press conference, a crowd met with the sheriff away from the media. Some left angry, saying they should be allowed in to defend their homes from looters. Two residents stood at a map of the evacuation zone arguing whether the borders were justified.

Others kept their cool, like Pix Pixley. The 70-something real estate appraiser left home on foot when he first saw smoke, carrying a cat in one hand and leading his horse with the other. As far as he knows, his house is still standing.

“The good part is, my office is in my house, so I’ve had a week vacation, and I haven’t had one in years.”

He came to the press conference wearing a borrowed Hawaii shirt and hiking shorts, the picture of calm.

Sheriff Maketa has continually assured residents their neighborhoods are under constant patrol. By mid-day Sunday he had four burglary cases and one case of impersonating a fire or police official, all of which he said would be prosecuted with vigor.

 

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