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Hays High grad fighting destructive Colorado fire

6/16/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

Son of the late George Hendrickson

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The number of wildfires former Hays resident Shane Coyne has battled is in the triple digits, he said. However, none of them have been like the Black Forest fire.

Coyne, a 1988 graduate of Hays High School, said the fire had plenty of fuel when it started last week. There are tall pine trees in the area, with pine needles piled high on the ground.

"It really burned hot and fast through the grass and needles," Coyne said. "It's a problem area that we've been worried about for quite some time."

USA Today reported the fire, which started Tuesday near Canon City, now is the most destructive fire in Colorado history, surpassing last year's Waldo Canyon blaze, which burned 347 homes and killed two people.

The Black Forest fire was 30 percent contained as of Friday evening, with full containment forecast for Thursday, the newspaper reported. Approximately 800 firefighters were on the scene.

One of them is Coyne, who has lived in the Colorado Springs area since 1996, and who has been fighting wildfires since 1999.

The Black Forest fire is "literally right across the street, the interstate, from the Air Force Academy," where Coyne, 42, is an instructor.

Coyne, who lives in Manitou Springs, a 30-minute drive from the Air Force Academy, said his home is not in danger. A family whose home burned is staying at his house.

The Black Forest blaze has killed two people, destroyed 473 homes and displaced thousands of residents, according to the newspaper. Coyne has been putting in 14-hour days, starting with a briefing at 6 a.m.

"It can be very tiring," he said. "It's always hot; it's at altitude. The fire's always active, so you're moving around. At the end of the day, you're always tired."

Coyne said the human element of fighting wildfires hits home -- sometimes right away, sometimes later.

"There are some firefighters who lost homes in the Black Forest area," Coyne said. "You take those hits, but you see all the good that was done, houses that are standing, ones that are saved.

"I feel very good that I have a skill set that is needed, and I can help my town, my neighbors, my friends."