Firefighters made little headway Thursday against a raging wildfire near Colorado Springs, Colorado, which has scorched close to 16,000 acres, destroyed 360 homes and claimed at least two lives.
Witnesses spoke to the two victims in the afternoon, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa told reporters.
"They said that they could see a glow to the west. They were packing their personal belongings, trying to get out," he said.
Earlier, county spokesman Dave Rose told CNN that the Black Forest Fire, burning northeast of the city, now appears to be the most destructive in terms of property lost in state history.
Some 750 firefighters were battling the blaze, which was 5% contained late Thursday. With the help of helicopters and air tankers, they established a loose perimeter.
"The fire is very, very active within the containment area, and we don't have a high level of confidence at all that we'll be able to hold all of these lines around this fire," Rose said.
The fire's evacuation area was 93,000 acres, affecting approximately 38,000 people and 13,000 homes, and the flames were estimated to have burned through 15,700 acres, said Maketa.
That marked a dramatic increase from the 8,500 acres officials said had been burned by Wednesday night, he noted.
After he spoke, residents of about 1,000 homes in Colorado Springs were told to evacuate.
"Wind is probably our No. 1 threat," the sheriff said. Combined with dry brush and high temperatures, the winds have fanned devastating flames.
Maketa struggled to find a phrase to describe how ferocious the fire is, settling on "very dynamic."
"If it's a draw, that's a victory today because we haven't had too many draws in the last couple of days," he said.
'The flames were there'
Among those who lost their home were husband and wife, Jaenette and Kristian Coyne.
"We literally had five minutes, and we left because it was, the flames were there," Jaenette Coyne told CNN's AC360 Thursday night.
She said she grabbed a baby album and a personal computer with pictures on it. She also took a firebox, which contained most of the couple's important documents.
The Coynes actually saw their home burn on live TV.
"It was probably the worst thing I've ever seen in my life. You have that moment where you say: 'Is that really my house?' But we know it was. However, now I'm grateful that I know. A lot of people here just don't know," Jaenette Coyne said.
In northeast Colorado Springs, CNN iReporter Heather Croze took photos outside her home, capturing a billowing plume of smoke. One shot shows just how wide the smoke was on the horizon.
A county fairground northeast of the Black Forest Fire looked like a Noah's Ark with families who fled with their animals to escape the looming inferno.
There were nearly 30 chickens, several hundred horses, a handful of cows and a couple calves, and many alpacas and miniature horses, according to the Elbert County Sheriff's Office. Assorted dogs, cats, goats and donkeys mingled with mules and llamas. Three stallions were there. And for good measure, one yak.
At least eight families also have taken refuge at the Elbert County Fairgrounds in Kiowa, the Denver Post reported, which is about 35 miles southeast of Denver.
Joanne Gaishin slept outside in her car after fleeing her home with 18 chickens and three turkeys. "I stayed in the front seat of my car with all of my fowl in there, with the roosters crowing in the morning," she told the paper.
'We have each other'
Paula Warren, one of thousands of residents forced to flee her home northeast of Colorado Springs, spoke about how difficult it was to leave and wonder if her home was all right.