Wildfire Forces Thousands From Homes Near Colorado Springs

by
Reuters
A fast-growing wildfire has forced thousands of residents from homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and nearby communities as firefighters struggled on Sunday to contain out-of-control and wind-stoked blazes in several western U.S. states.

Smoke billows from a wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Saturday, June 23, 2012. The fire has grown to an estimated 600 acres and The Gazette reports authorities are evacuating the exclusive Cedar Heights neighborhood as well as the Garden of the Gods nature center.

A fast-growing wildfire has forced thousands of residents from homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and nearby communities as firefighters struggled on Sunday to contain out-of-control and wind-stoked blazes in several western U.S. states.

The wildfire in the Pike National Forest, known as the Waldo Canyon Fire, has consumed about 2,000 acres (809 hectares) in less than a day and triggered evacuation orders for 11,000 people from those communities.

No buildings had been lost as of Sunday morning, but the flames could threaten houses if the wind shifts, said emergency worker Rob Deyerberg at the fire joint information center.

"This is a very, very volatile situation," Deyerberg said.

About 6,200 people were cleared from Manitou Springs, fire department spokesman Dave Hunting said. Authorities also ordered residents to leave Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and Cascade, according to the fire incident command.

Several wildfires were burning in Colorado, including the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins, where firefighters girded for another day of battling flames, high temperatures, low relative humidity and erratic wind.

The High Park Fire - already the second-largest on record in the state, and its most destructive ever - had reached 81,190 acres (32,856 hectares) in steep canyons and has continued to spread west into inaccessible areas.

"This fire continues to be persistent and find new areas that it can burn," incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said.

On Friday, it jumped containment lines and swept through a housing subdivision, forcing out hundreds of residents. About 10 houses were destroyed Friday night and crews were forced back by flames that shot into the sky, Hahnenberg said.

That lightning-sparked blaze is blamed for the death of a 62-year-old grandmother in her mountain cabin. It has destroyed 200 houses in the two weeks since it was first spotted.

About 18 miles (29 km) from the High Park Fire, a fire that started in a cabin near the Rocky Mountain National Park ripped through 21 houses in Estes Park, but was nearly under control, officials said.

The smell of burning timber wafted through Denver on Saturday, where a dense canopy of gray smoke could be seen drifting east from the fire zone over Colorado's high plains.

Temperatures reached into the triple digits in many parts of Colorado on Saturday, including a record 104 degrees in Denver, where the temperature was expected to reach 102 on Sunday.

EVACUATION LIFTED FOR UTAH 'DUMP' FIRE

As of Sunday, there were 20 large, uncontained wildfires being fought across the country, most in six Western states - Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona - the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported.

Utah officials lifted evacuation orders on Saturday evening for the so-called Dump Fire that had kept about 2,500 people out of homes in Saratoga Springs and nearby Eagle Mountain, although residents were urged to stay on alert.

The Dump Fire, which was ignited accidentally on Thursday about south of Salt Lake City by people shooting at targets near a landfill, grew to 6,023 acres (2,437 hectares) on Saturday from 4,000 late Friday. It is about 40 percent contained.

Winds with gusts of more than 20 miles per hour pushed the flames westward on Saturday afternoon, but containment lines held and residents were allowed to return to their homes, said Jason Curry if Utah's office of forestry, fire and state lands.

The biggest fire so far this season was the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico, the state's largest on record, which has charred almost 300,000 acres (121,405 hectares).