Waldo Canyon Fire pushes thousands to evacuate
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- (Photo: Bryan Oller/Associated Press)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Heat and flames from a destructive wildfire threatening Colorado's second-largest city were far too intense Wednesday morning for authorities to fully assess the damage it caused overnight.
Officials don't know how many houses have been destroyed in the towering blaze that has 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 blaze doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles, fire information officer Rob Dyerberg said.
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, the No. 1 priority for the nation's firefighters.
"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the 9-square-mile fire late Tuesday. "It's almost surreal. You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."
With flames cresting a ridge high above its scenic, 28-square-mile campus, the Air Force Academy told more than 2,100 residents to evacuate 600 households.
A curtain of flame and smoke hung above the academy's Falcon Stadium; billowing gray clouds formed a backdrop to its aluminum, glass and steel Cadet Chapel, an icon of the academy. Elsewhere, police officers directing traffic and fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts and bandanas to breathe through the smoke.
"People are freaking out," 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."
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