Colorado blaze too dangerous to assess damage
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- A raging wildfire destroyed dozens of houses overnight and charred land on the edges of the Air Force Academy on Wednesday, while thick smoke and intense, towering flames kept officials from learning the full scope of damage to Colorado's second-largest city.
The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles, and has so far 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 fire burned about 10 acres of land along the southwest boundary of the academy's 28-square-mile boundary, but no injuries or damage to academy structures have been reported.
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, which is the No. 1 priority for the nation's firefighters.
Flames crested a ridge above the scenic Air Force Academy campus Tuesday, and the school told more than 2,200 residents to evacuate 600 households in one housing area.
The fire is about 5 percent contained, incident commander Rich 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.
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 dead Tuesday.
- 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 said 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.