Heat and flames from a destructive wildfire
threatening Colorado's second-largest city were too intense Wednesday
morning for authorities to fully assess the damage it caused overnight.
Officials don't know how
many houses have been destroyed in the towering blaze that has forced
mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents, Colorado Springs
emergency management director Brett Waters said. Among those urgently
evacuated Tuesday evening were residents at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The blaze doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles, fire information officer Rob Dyerberg said.
Heavy smoke and ash
billowed from the mountain foothills west of the city. Bright yellow and
orange flames flared in the night, often signaling another home lost to
the Waldo Canyon Fire, the No. 1 priority for the nation's
"It was like looking at the
worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper said after
flying over the 9-square-mile fire late Tuesday. "It's almost surreal.
You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."
With flames cresting a
ridge high above its campus, the Air Force Academy told more than 2,100
residents to evacuate 600 households.
As curtain of flame and
smoke hung above the academy's Falcon Stadium late Tuesday, billowing
gray clouds formed a backdrop to its aluminum, glass and steel Cadet
Chapel, an icon of the academy. Elsewhere, police officers directing
traffic and fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts and
bandanas to breathe through the smoke.
"This is a firestorm of epic proportions," Colorado Springs Fire Chief Richard Brown said.
Christine Williams and her
daughter Serina saw flames consuming grass just 30 yards from their
northwest Colorado Springs apartment complex when they fled.
"It was pretty close,"
Serina Williams said Wednesday. "It was too close for comfort, that's
for sure. It's like we've had our life swiped out from underneath us."
Sarah Safranek was in tears as she sought information about her house.
"Right now I'd rather not know," she said.
Thunderstorms are expected
near the blaze in the afternoon, but incident commander Rich Harvey says
they could bring unpredictable winds that would hinder firefighters'
efforts near the city of 419,000 people.
The fire is about 5 percent contained, Harvey said.
Throughout the interior
West, firefighters have toiled for days in searing, record-setting heat
against fires fueled by prolonged drought. Most, if not all, of Utah,
Colorado, Wyoming and Montana were under red flag warnings, meaning
extreme fire danger.
The nation is experiencing
"a super-heated spike on top of a decades-long warming trend," said
Derek Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Climatic Data
Center in Asheville, N.C.
Elsewhere in Colorado, the
136-square-mile High Park Fire has destroyed 257 homes, authorities
said. That fire was triggered by lightning June 9.
And elsewhere in the West:
- A blaze in central Utah
has burned down 56 structures, the majority of which are homes,
officials said Wednesday. Authorities are about halfway through their
damage assessment of a fire that has burned about 46,000 acres, or 72
square miles. Officials returned to an evacuated area and found a woman
- A wildfire north of
Billings, Mont., caused hundreds of families to be evacuated from their
homes as the blaze burned more than 18,000 acres, or about 28 square
miles. Musselshell County Attorney Kent Sipe told The Billings Gazette
that at least 60 homes had burned.
- A wildfire in the
Bridger-Teton National Forest has grown from about 2,000 acres to 12,000
acres, or nearly 19 square miles, officials said Wednesday.
Associated Press writers
Thomas Peipert in Colorado Springs, Rema Rahman and Steven K. Paulson in
Denver, Lynn DeBruin in Indianola, Utah, and AP Science Writer Seth
Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.
2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not
be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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