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Colorado Wildfires - 'It's As Close To Hell As I Can Imagine'
2012-06-28 16:19:18 (222 weeks ago)
Posted By: Intellpuke

The tens of thousands of evacuees in the Colorado Springs, Colorado, area received word Thursday that hundreds of homes have been lost to the out-of-control wildfire there.

"We now know hundreds of homes have been destroyed," Mayor Steve Bach said a morning press conference.

"There was nothing left in some areas -- burned out foundations that were smoldering. It looked like a nuclear weapon had been dropped. It's as close to hell as I could imagine," Bach said after touring the heavily damaged Mountain Shadows subdivision.

Bach said a firmer count would be available later Thursday. Sources earlier told the Colorado Springs Gazette that as many as 300 homes were destroyed in a big firestorm Tuesday, and that more homes have burned since.

Officials were able to confirm that no new homes were destroyed overnight.

Along the fire lines, crews were still battling what the city fire chief had called a "monster."

"Something blowing up at Blodgett and Woodmen," reported one firefighter over an emergency communications scanner, according to the Gazette.

Blodgett Peak is near the U.S. Air Force Academy and crews have been battling flare-ups there for several days.

(story continues below)

Crews are getting a break in the weather, with the area no longer under a "red flag warning," which means extreme fire danger.

On Wednesday, mandatory evacuations were ordered for the 3,000 people in the town of Crystola and part of Woodland Park after more than 32,000 people had to flee on Tuesday.

Those evacuation orders came as the fire moved down a ridge toward those homes, the Gazette reported, citing communications from an emergency services scanner. "It's huge," said the voice over the scanner. "I would estimate two-three miles in width."

In another scanner exchange, a request was made for more fire crews at Blodgett Peak. "As of right now I cannot hold this hill," a voice said from the fire.

Heavy smoke made for unhealthy air in and around the city. After jumping fire lines Tuesday, the towering blaze has now burned more than 29 square miles.

By late Wednesday, winds picked up and stirred flames, forcing some crews to retreat, the Gazette reported. C-130 planes used to bomb the fire with retardant were grounded.

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown on Wednesday called the Waldo Canyon Fire a "monster event" that is "not even remotely close to being contained." The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Tuesday night, the community of Mountain Shadows, northwest of Colorado Springs, appeared to be enveloped in an orange glow.

People were "freaking out" as they fled Tuesday night, local resident Kathleen Tillman told the Denver Post. "You are driving through smoke. It is completely pitch black, and there is tons of ash dropping on the road."

"This is a fire of epic proportions," Brown said at a briefing Tuesday night.

"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper added after flying over the fire. "It's almost surreal. You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."

Colorado is battling eight large fires, its worst fire season in history.

President Barack Obama will tour the Colorado Springs area on Friday to show his support, the White House said Wednesday.

The state's largest blaze is the 136-square-mile High Park Fire, which has destroyed 257 homes and killed one woman. That fire was triggered by lightning on June 9 and is nearly contained.

In Boulder, Colorado, the Flagstaff Fire burned to within 1.5 miles of the southern edge of the University of Colorado campus. The 230-acre fire was 30 percent contained and "remains a threat to Boulder," Reuters quoted incident commander Rocky Opliger as saying.

Nationwide, 35 large, active wildfires were being fought. The bulk of them were in nine western states: Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California.

Although the fire season got off to an early start in the West, the number of fires and acreage burned nationwide is still below the 10-year average for this time of year.

The Associated Press provided this roundup of other fires across the West:

-- In Utah, a 72-square-mile wildfire has destroyed at least 56 structures, mainly homes, between Fountain Green and Fairview. That number is expected to rise. One person has died in that fire. A fire near St. George started Wednesday afternoon and had grown to 2,000 acres by midnight, forcing an undetermined number of residents near New Harmony and Bumblebee to evacuate. The fire was burning three miles north of Zion National Park, prompting park officials to close a canyon area popular with hikers known as the Kolob section.

-- In southeast Montana, wildfires that have torched more than 200 square miles and burned dozens of homes spread farther Wednesday, with more evacuations ordered after a blaze near Roundup jumped a fire line. The growing Dahl Fire, which has burned more than 60 homes by one estimate, forced an unknown number of residents to leave their homes near its southern flank, on top of an estimated 600 people evacuated the day before. "That's one of the most dangerous fires in the history of Montana," said Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

-- In Wyoming, 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. Authorities worked to get campers out of the area.

Intellpuke: You can read this article by correspondent Miguel Llanos in context here:
Associated Press writers and Reuters correspondents contributed reporting to this news article.

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