A fast-growing wildfire in Colorado forced 11,000 people from their homes at least briefly yesterday and threatened popular summer camping grounds beneath Pikes Peak, whose vistas helped inspire the patriotic tune "America the Beautiful."
Live summit video from the 4,302-metre peak showed plumes of dark smoke billowing in the air, and a cog railway that ferries tourists up the side of the famous mountain was shut down because of the wildfires.
The blaze in the Pike National Forest, which has become known as the Waldo Canyon fire, has consumed about 1,012 hectares since Saturday and triggered evacuation orders for 11,000 people from Colorado Springs and nearby towns, fire officials said.
"This is a very, very volatile situation," said emergency worker Rob Deyerberg at the fire joint information center. The blaze was just one of 20 uncontrolled fires raging in US states yesterday, mostly in the West, stoked by wind and triple digit temperatures in some areas. A fresh blaze in neighboring Utah forced an estimated 1,500 people from their homes in that state, officials said.
Of those evacuated in Colorado, about 6,200 people were cleared from Manitou Springs, which is often used as a base for travel to Pikes Peak, fire department spokesman Dave Hunting said. That evacuation order was later lifted yesterday evening as winds calmed and stopped driving flames in that direction, while others remained in place.
Authorities also ordered residents to leave Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and Cascade, according to the fire incident command. No buildings had been lost to the fire as of yesterday evening, but the flames could threaten houses if the wind shifted, Mr Deyerberg said.
El Paso County spokesman Dave Rose said the fire was burning 3.2 km from the base of Pikes Peak, billed as the most visited mountain in North America. Flames were also visible in a heavily wooded neighborhood of upscale homes just south of the Garden of the Gods, a park in Colorado Springs that is popular with rock climbers.
The Waldo Canyon blaze came as firefighting resources were stretched by the monster High Park blaze west of Fort Collins, which officials now estimate has destroyed 248 homes since it was ignited two weeks ago. Another Colorado fire charred 21 homes on Saturday. The High Park Fire - the second-largest on record in the state and its most destructive - has so far consumed 33,672 hectares in steep canyons.
Sparked by lightning, it is blamed for the death of a 62-year-old grandmother in her mountain cabin."This fire continues to be persistent and find new areas that it can burn," incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said.