COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - The threat of fire is always there -- each year more than 3,500 people in the US die in fires. Colorado's fire death rate is relatively low when compared with the rest of the country, but the threat of wildfires spreading to residential areas in our state remains high.
We've seen it many times before, the most recent in December when the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,100 homes. The fire was fast-moving, leaving some little time to get out. Two people were not able to escape their homes and died.
Two Colorado men with two different fire stories shared their experiences of getting out alive.
"So that morning we left the house at 8 o'clock," says Sid Webb. "We didn't know it when that garage door closed, that was it. People have assumed you got back and to evacuate -- I'm like, 'You're not hearing what I'm saying, we never got back.'"
Webb watched his dream home burn from afar on June 11, 2013. The Black Forest Fire changed his life that day. Images of his house burning will forever be ingrained in his memory.
"Dang that's my house, that's my house," says Webb. "A helicopter had flown over and captured video of it and it was one of the first to go."
Two people died in the Black Forest Fire.
Aaron Moore was early to a house showing on May 24, 2019, when he saw smoke coming out of the Regency Towers Apartments and ran inside to help.
"Amazing thing to me was as much smoke as there already was that nobody had a clue," says Aaron Moore.
The conditions weren't good inside the senior living community and most people couldn't get out quickly.
"People there are very elderly and I knew that they weren't going to be able to get out, and a lot of them were probably hard of hearing so that was really scary," says Moore.
Moore carried people down to safety and worked to evacuate the building before firefighters took over. One woman died from smoke inhalation after that apartment fire.
Colorado Springs firefighters invited KRDO to their training facility. A tower that simulates the intense and dangerous conditions you might see if you are caught inside a burning home. When we got there for training, the smoke was really disorienting. We didn't see any flames at first, but turning a corner and getting first sight of the fire was scary.
A real fire would be much hotter and the smoke thicker. Firefighters say most people don't die in fires because of burns.
"Maybe the fire never gets to you," says CSFD Training Captain, Ken Anderson. "Very few people actually burn to death in a fire, but they are overcome and asphyxiated by the smoke."
This is why getting low to the ground should be one of the first things you do, since smoke and poisonous air naturally rise. With more smoke and less oxygen, you can quickly become sleepy and disoriented. You should also try and cover your body with a coat or blanket to protect exposed skin. And close doors behind you as you exit. This can help slow the fire's spread. It goes without saying, but getting out is your first priority -- never stop to gather items.
"The destruction was astoundingly catastrophic," says Webb. "The stuff is never coming back, as much as I might miss something, it's never coming back. Fire victims, once they get over the shock of it, I think they have a positive perspective."
Experts say prevention is key. It's important to test your smoke detectors and replace the batteries once a year. You also want to have a fire plan with those you live with, especially if you have kids. That includes going over the main exits in the home and alternatives if those are blocked.