Colorado Springs wildfire doubles in size

June 27, 2012 at 6:47 PM
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COLORADO SPRINGS, June 27 (UPI) -- Mandatory evacuations for Colorado's Waldo Canyon fire were expanded Wednesday as the inferno double in size to more than 15,000 acres.

The evacuations were expanded to El Paso and Teller counties and the south and east sides of Woodland Park as the fire increasingly threatened populated areas of Colorado Springs, The Denver Post reported.

The fire was encroaching upon the U.S. Air Force Academy Wednesday afternoon, and the National Guard has been called in to help battle the blaze, KKTV, Colorado Springs, reported.

"The fire right now, like yesterday, did not push toward us but it's creeping," the Post quoted Woodland Park Mayor David Turley as saying.

"We thought it was prudent to do a mandatory evacuation in case the winds did blow our way, especially after seeing what happened in Colorado Springs yesterday."

The wildfire is only 5 percent contained, officials said.

President Barack Obama called Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach to get an update on the situation and announce he would travel to Colorado Friday to observe the damage and thank responders, the White House said in a statement.

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 Post quoted Lt. Jeff Kramer, an El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokesman, as saying.

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 about 32,000 people had 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 gusts of up to 65 mph through mountain canyons blew the wildfire through containment lines into northwest Colorado Springs.

Jan Van Winkle, the Air Force Academy's public affairs officer, said an evacuation order was issued for about 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 could use their runways.

Cadets for the academy's 2016 class were 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 about 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.

Seventeen air tankers had cycled in and out of firefighting action over the last 48 hours across the Western United States, and more than 8,400 personnel were deployed against wildfires across the country, the White House said.

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