Fire crews outside Colorado Springs, Colo., expected more weather trouble on Wednesday in what the local fire chief called a “monster event” that doubled in size overnight and has forced 32,000 people to flee.
Heavy smoke made for unhealthy air in and around the city. After jumping fire lines Tuesday, the towering blaze has now burned 24 square miles and an undetermined number of homes.
While crews should get a break from the heat, a forecast for thunderstorms could mean unpredictable winds.
“We expect further trouble from the weather today,” incident commander Rich Harvey said at a press briefing. “We do expect all of our lines to be challenged today.”
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown 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.”
Brown insisted that “many, many homes” were saved by firefighters.
Hickenlooper told anxious residents that “we have all the support of the U.S. government. We have all the support of the state of Colorado. And we want everybody here to know that.”
He emphasized that Colorado was open to tourism, saying various fires had affected just a half-percent of all public lands and perhaps 400 of 10,000 campground sites.
Among the evacuees were cadets and staff living in one section of the sprawling U.S. Air Force Academy. Flames crested a ridge high above the campus on Tuesday, forcuing more than 2,100 residents there to flee.
A new class of 1,045 cadets will still check in on Thursday but at a different section of the campus. The academy said the entire campus would be closed Wednesday to all visitors and non-essential staff.
Colorado is battling 12 large fires, its worst fire season in history, and other states across the West are being taxed as well.
To the north in Boulder County, 26 homes were evacuated Tuesday when lightning sparked a wildfire. No structures were immediately threatened, but the National Center for Atmospheric Research closed as a precaution.
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