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June 28, 2012

Colorado Springs wildfire doubles in size


The Waldo Canyon Fire burns several homes burn in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (UPI/Trevor Brown, Jr.)

COLORADO SPRINGS (UPI) -- Colorado firefighters faced another day of inferno-like conditions Wednesday as they battled a 15,517-acre wildfire only 5 percent contained, officials said.

The Waldo Canyon fire outside Colorado Springs has doubled in size from previous reports.

Officials said the blaze exhibited "extreme fire behavior with extreme rates of spread" and an increase in the fire perimeter along the north and east sides, InciWeb reported.

"This event that is ongoing is certainly unprecedented in the city," The Denver Post quoted El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer as saying.

Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday called the fire "surreal" after he returned from surveying the area, CNN reported.

"There were people's homes burned to the ground," he said. "There's no question, it's serious. It's as serious as it gets."

Officials said the fire has been exhibiting "extreme fire behavior."

"This is a firestorm of epic proportions," said Fire Chief Richard Brown of Colorado Springs.

A spokeswoman for the multiagency response team said conditions could not be worse.

"It is like a convection oven out there," said Anne Rys-Sikora.

The Post said some 32,000 people have fled the area.

"People are freaking out," said Kathleen Tillman, who drove from Pueblo to northern Colorado Springs. "You are driving through smoke. It is completely pitch black, and there is tons of ash dropping on the road."

On Tuesday wind gust of up to 65 mph through mountain canyons blew the wildfire through containment lines into northwest Colorado Springs.

Flames from the wildfire moved dangerously close to the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Jan Van Winkle, the academy's public affairs officer, said an evacuation order was issued for some 700 residents of the academy's Pine Valley and Douglass Valley housing.

Flight, glider and parachute operations were called off so the U.S. Forest Service can use their runways.

Cadets for the academy's 2016 class are set to arrive Thursday.

Elsewhere, lightning sparked a forest fire in Boulder, consuming 228 acres in just minutes. Authorities ordered the evacuation of 26 homes and told residents of 2,000 more to prepare to flee, the Post said.

The High Park fire west of Fort Collins, which consumed some 87,250 acres and at least 257 homes, making it the most destructive in state history, was reported 55 percent contained.

In the Eastern Plains, the blaze near Last Chance charred 45,000 acres in just 8 hours.

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