Winds whip flames in Colorado
32,000 ordered to evacuate
(MCT) — High winds continued to whip through the Colorado Springs area on Wednesday, fanning the flames of the Waldo Canyon fire and more than doubling the amount of destroyed acreage. At least 32,000 people have been ordered to flee their homes.
As of the most recent update, 15,517 acres of dry-as-dust land had been consumed, and that number is expected to rise, fire information officer Rob Dyerberg said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, the damage stood at 6,200 acres, but with winds blowing as hard as 60 miles per hour in exceptionally dry terrain, that total quickly grew.
“The good news is that there have been no significant injuries, to our knowledge,” Dyerberg said. “The good news is that firefighters have saved thousands of homes, but the bad news is that we have lost some.”
Dyerberg said it was too soon to calculate the extent of damage.
Meanwhile, officials have ordered more than 32,000 people to leave their homes. The evacuated residents live in the city of Colorado Springs and parts of El Paso County. The fire is within miles of the city limits.
The evacuated area also includes part of the U.S. Air Force Academy. More than 2,100 residents have been ordered to leave about 600 homes, but the military school will continue its plan to process incoming cadets on Thursday, according to a posting on its website. But the reporting location has been changed to the Cadet Field House instead of Doolittle Hall.
Wildfires have been raging in several states as record high temperatures, low humidity and sharp winds have combined to create a tough fire-fighting season. About 1.4 million acres have already burned early in this season. In a typical year, an average of 1.9 million acres are consumed.
The Waldo Canyon fire — as the blaze around Colorado Springs is known — has been especially fierce. Heavy smoke is spewing as high as 20,000 feet and fouling the tourist area best known for Pikes Peak.
“It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the fire late Tuesday. “It’s almost surreal. You look at that, and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Richard Brown told the Denver Post, “This is a firestorm of epic proportions.”
As of Wednesday morning, more than 1,000 people were fighting the fire, officials said. The temperatures are expected to cool slightly; the forecast calls for a relatively balmy 86 degrees, compared to the triple digits of recent days. Winds are expected to be calmer as well, just about 10 mph.
The Waldo Canyon fire is officially just 5 percent contained. It began over the weekend, and the cause is still under investigation.
Wildfires continued to burn in Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Montana, fire officials said.
©2012 Los Angeles Times
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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): COLORADO-FIRES
GRAPHIC (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20120627 Colorado fires