Colorado wildfire spreading

Wed, Jun 27, 2012, 01:00

Firefighters struggled today against a wildfire at the edge of Colorado Springs that doubled in size overnight and has forced 32,000 people from their homes, prompted evacuations from the US Air Force Academy and consumed an unknown number of homes.

The Waldo Canyon Fire, which has grabbed attention for days because of its proximity to landmarks like the famed mountaintop of Pikes Peak and the Air Force Academy, has now burned through 15,375 acres near Colorado's second-most populous city, fire information officer Rob Deyerberg told Reuters.

"That means it made a run of roughly 9,000 acres in a matter of hours yesterday afternoon," he said.

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called the firestorm that hit his city - in a metropolitan area of more than 650,000 people - yesterday "a monster" and said at this point flames were "not even remotely close to being contained."

The fire, which is only 5 per cent contained, was not as intense early today but would likely build up again as the temperature rises during the day, Mr Deyerberg said.

Officials were assessing damage a day after wind-driven flames swept over containment lines into Colorado Springs, burning down an unknown number of homes on its outskirts as authorities hurried to evacuate residents.

"This area that we're in is extremely dense," Colorado Springs Fire Department spokeswoman Sunny Smaldino told CNN  today. "It's one of our worst scenarios in our city to have that many homes affected."

A spot fire touched a vacant, southwest corner of the grounds of the Air Force Academy, which continues to operate but is closed to visitors, fire officials said.

No serious injuries from the Waldo Fire were reported as of this morning, Mr Deyerberg said.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper flew into the city last night by helicopter to meet with fire commanders and tour the fire zone. He noted that the blaze was one of at least a dozen burning throughout the state. Colorado wildfires have killed four people this year.

"This is the worst fire season in the history of Colorado," Mr Hickenlooper said during an impromptu news conference, adding that from the air he saw many homes destroyed in a glowing landscape that looked surreal.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said 32,000 people had been evacuated, and an Air Force Academy spokesman said the evacuation zone included two communities of single-family homes on academy grounds housing civilian and military personnel and their families.

Columns of vehicles carrying evacuees and hastily packed belongings stretched bumper-to-bumper for miles yesterday, crawling slowly southward out of town along Interstate 25.

Closer to the blaze, which has been fanned by winds blowing into the southern Rockies from the prairies to the east, trees were visibly twisting from the heat of the flames.

Reuters