Nigel Thompson was drawn to Black Forest by the rural feel, privacy, lack of crime and space to raise a family.
"A safe place for my kids to grow up, lots of room for them to run around," said Thompson, a computer programmer who moved to a house on a 60-acre lot in 1997.
Five years later, he took in evacuees from a devastating fire in the foothills to the northwest. That drove home the fact that his family was living in a tinderbox. Thompson cut down 20 pine trees to form a firebreak around his house, which he topped with fire retardant roof tiles. He diligently cleared away brush, downed branches and pine cones.
"It didn't make a damn difference at the end of the day," Thompson said Thursday. His home was incinerated Tuesday.
"If you're surrounded by people who haven't done anything, it doesn't matter what you do," Thompson said. "It's interesting that you can have a house in a forest and the building code doesn't say anything about the roof design."
That's what makes fire prevention so difficult, said Anne Walker of the Western Governors' Association.
"Local government has ultimate authority over where homes are placed," she said. "You need to look at local ordinances and where homes are placed and what they're made of."
El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn said the commission has tried to ensure that new developments have brush clearance and easy emergency access.
"Sometimes it's just nature," he said. "When you have a fire like this in a semi-arid environment, there's not a lot you can do."
Maketa said firefighters were hampered by a matted layer of pine needles and grass fuel on the forest floor — fuel called "duff." Spot fires below the trees can smolder for days and even weeks inside it, then blow up. Firefighters see dry matting, Maketa said, "and when you look 10 minutes later, it's full of flames."
Other fires burned in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and California.
In Canon City, 50 miles southwest of Black Forest, the 5-square-mile Royal Gorge Fire was 20 percent contained. Royal Gorge Bridge & Park officials said that of its 52 buildings, 48 are now gone. The park's suspension bridge 955 feet above the Arkansas River is still up, though the fire damaged some wooden planks. An aerial tram was destroyed.
A lightning-sparked fire in Rocky Mountain National Park was burning on about 300 acres, less than originally estimated.
Associated Press writers Haven Daley and Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.