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Colorado blaze too dangerous to assess damage

 Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Phot...
 Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Phot...

Western Wildfires

Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Phot...

Western Wildfires

Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Phot...

A raging wildfire destroyed dozens of houses overnight and charred land on the edges of the Air Force Academy on Wednesday, while thick smoke and intense, towering flames kept officials from learning the full scope of damage to Colorado's second-largest city.
The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far 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 fire burned about 10 acres (4 hectares) of land along the southwest boundary of the academy's 28-square-mile (72.5-square-kilometer) boundary, but no injuries or damage to academy structures have been reported.
Steve Cox, an aide to Mayor Steve Bach, said Wednesday morning that the blaze has consumed dozens of houses elsewhere. A more precise figure wasn't available because of the intensity of the fire.
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, which is the No. 1 priority for U.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 (23-square-kilometer) fire late Tuesday. "It's almost surreal. You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."
Flames crested a ridge above the scenic Air Force Academy campus on Tuesday, and the school told more than 2,200 residents to evacuate 600 households in one housing area.
About 90 firefighters from the academy and nearby fire departments were battling the encroaching flames.
It wasn't immediately clear how close the fire was to the academy's signature building, the aluminum, glass and steel Cadet Chapel. The chapel dorms, classrooms and other central buildings are clustered in the northwest quadrant of the campus.
"The cadets are safe," Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, the academy superintendent, said.
Thunderstorms are expected near the blaze Wednesday afternoon, but incident commander Rich Harvey says they could bring unpredictable winds that would hinder firefighters' efforts near the city of 419,000 people.
The fire is about 5 percent contained, Harvey said.
Throughout the interior West, firefighters have toiled for days in searing, record-setting heat against fires fueled by prolonged drought. Most, if not all, of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana were under red flag warnings, meaning extreme fire danger.
The nation is experiencing "a super-heated spike on top of a decades-long warming trend," said Derek Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
Elsewhere in Colorado, the 136-square-mile (352-square-kilometer) High Park Fire has destroyed 257 homes, authorities said. That fire was triggered by lightning June 9.
And elsewhere in the West:
_ A blaze in central Utah has burned down 56 structures, the majority of which are homes, officials said Wednesday. Authorities are about halfway through their damage assessment of a fire that has burned about 46,000 acres (18,616 hectares). Officials returned to an evacuated area and found a woman dead Tuesday.
_ A wildfire north of Billings, Montana, caused hundreds of families to be evacuated from their homes as the blaze burned more than 18,000 acres (7,285 hectares). Musselshell County Attorney Kent Sipe told The Billings Gazette that at least 60 homes had burned.
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Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Colorado Springs, Rema Rahman and Steven K. Paulson in Denver, Lynn DeBruin in Indianola, Utah, and AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-06 11:14 GMT+08:00