Colorado wildfires worsen, 32,000 flee homes
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A wildfire raging near some of Colorado's most popular tourist sites took a turn for the worse on Tuesday as it forced 32,000 people from their homes, prompted evacuations on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy and swallowed homes at the edge of Colorado Springs.
The Waldo Canyon Fire, which has roared through at least 6,200 acres of dry timber since Saturday, has grabbed attention because of its proximity to landmarks like the famed mountaintop of Pikes Peak and the Air Force Academy.
The blaze claimed its first property losses on Tuesday as flames swept over containment lines into the northwestern edge of Colorado's second-most populous city, consuming an unknown number of homes as authorities hurried to evacuate residents.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said 32,000 people had been evacuated, and fire information officer Rob Deyerberg said the evacuation zone included the southern part of the Air Force Academy grounds, including a residential area.
"We are in a very critical situation now. Unfortunately we do have structures and homes that are burning in the northwest corner of Colorado Springs. We have mandatory evacuation over a considerable area," Deyerberg told Reuters.
A mushroom cloud of gray, black and brown smoke, topped by billowing, white cumulus clouds, rose nearly 20,000 feet into the sky and hung over residents as they scrambled to heed evacuation orders.
The sudden closure of service stations along with other businesses, leaving fleeing motorists unable to fill up their cars, added to a sense of urgency as roads filled with traffic.
Closer to the blaze, which has been fanned by winds blowing into the southern Rockies from the prairies to the east, trees were visibly twisting from the heat of the flames.
"It's a very hostile environment out there," fire information officer Anne Rys-Sikora told Reuters.
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