Alexa

Displaced Colo. residents wait as fire rages

 A plume of smoke rises behind homes on the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. A large number of home...
 A plume of smoke from the Waldo Canyon wildfire rises behind homes west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, June 27, 2012. A large number of homes...
 Map shows spread of wildfire over last 24 hours and previous six days
 Lights from a fire truck streak across a burning hillside in a time exposure as the Dahl fire burns, south of Roundup, Mont., overnight Wednesday, Ju...
 Evacuees of the Waldo Canyon Fire look at the most recent map of the fire's progression at the Cheyenne Mountain High School evacuation center on Wed...
 Evacuees of the Waldo Canyon Fire are assisted by a volunteers from the Red Cross at the Cheyenne Mountain High School evacuation center on Wednesday...

Western Wildfires

A plume of smoke rises behind homes on the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. A large number of home...

Western Wildfires

A plume of smoke from the Waldo Canyon wildfire rises behind homes west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, June 27, 2012. A large number of homes...

COLO WILDFIRE

Map shows spread of wildfire over last 24 hours and previous six days

Montana Wildfires

Lights from a fire truck streak across a burning hillside in a time exposure as the Dahl fire burns, south of Roundup, Mont., overnight Wednesday, Ju...

Western Wildfires

Evacuees of the Waldo Canyon Fire look at the most recent map of the fire's progression at the Cheyenne Mountain High School evacuation center on Wed...

Western Wildfires

Evacuees of the Waldo Canyon Fire are assisted by a volunteers from the Red Cross at the Cheyenne Mountain High School evacuation center on Wednesday...

Tens of thousands of Colorado Springs residents forced from their homes by a raging wildfire took refuge with friends or family and crammed into hotels and shelters as Army troops helped firefighters protect the U.S. Air Force Academy from the flames.
The blaze was burning out of control early Thursday in the mountains and within Colorado's second-largest city, after more than 30,000 evacuees frantically packed up belongings and headed out their doors.
The wildfire was one of many burning across the parched West, blazes that have destroyed structures and prompted evacuations in Montana and Utah and forced the closure of a portion of Zion National Park.
Shifting winds Wednesday challenged firefighters trying to contain the 29-square-mile Waldo Canyon blaze and extinguish hot spots inside Colorado Spring's western suburbs. The National Weather Service reported 60 mph winds and lightning above the fire Wednesday afternoon, but winds were calmer by nightfall.
"It won't stay in the same place," said incident commander Rich Harvey.
Neighborhoods where explosions of bright orange flame Tuesday signaled yet another house had been claimed were still dangerous, keeping authorities away from being to assess the damage.
Ed and Florine Gigandet took refuge in a hotel in Manitou Springs, which days earlier had been evacuated when the same fire passed through. They fled their home as ash fell on their driveway from an ominous orange smoke overhead.
Trying to learn about damage, the Gigandets drove to near their west Colorado Springs neighborhood to talk to police officers and see the area. They scoured media photos and spent hours on the phone with friends for any scrap of information. Authorities told the Gigandets it could be at least week before they're allowed home.
"We only packed clothes for four days," Florine Gigandet, 83, a retired photo printer, said. "I really thought that we'd be gone for only a day."
The displaced residents took stock of what they left behind. Some sat in coffee shops, others stood on bluffs to keep an eye on their neighborhoods, and others met with insurance company representatives.
The fire moved so fast that Laura Oldland grabbed damp laundry out of her drier and threw it into a suitcase. But she forgot her grandmother's dishes.
The Gigandets, avid golfers, left their clubs behind. "We should be out golfing," said Ed Gigandet, 81, a retired mining machinery sales analyst.
Meanwhile, the White House said President Barack Obama will tour fire-stricken areas of Colorado on Friday and thank firefighters battling some of the worst fires to hit the American West in decades.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey said Obama's visit to Colorado, considered a key battleground state in the presidential election, would not tax the city's already-strained police force. Gov. John Hickenlooper said he expected the president might sign a disaster declaration that would allow for more federal aid.
The fire burned about 10 acres along the southwest boundary of the Air Force Academy campus. No injuries or damage to structures _ including the iconic Cadet Chapel _ were reported.
Late Wednesday night, Air Force Academy officials announced they were relocating about 550 cadets off academy grounds. About 200 cadets in summer academics were being moved to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and 350 others in airmanship and other training programs were released to local sponsor families, the school said. The cadet area isn't immediately threatened, and an incoming class of more than 1,000 is still scheduled to arrive Thursday.
About 120 soldiers from nearby Fort Carson built firebreaks around parts of the academy, aided by equipment including 10 heavy bulldozers, four excavators, 13 military transportation and support vehicles, and one commercial road grader, Army officials said.
The full scope of the fire remained unknown. So intense were the flames and so thick the smoke that rescue workers weren't able to tell residents which structures were destroyed and which ones were still standing. Steve Cox, a spokesman for Mayor Steve Bach, reported that at least dozens of homes had been consumed.
Indeed, authorities were too busy Wednesday struggling to save homes in near-zero visibility to count how many had been destroyed in what is the latest test for a drought-parched and tinder-dry state. At one point, a team assessing the damage had to leave charred neighborhoods because of smoke and fire danger.
Carey said officials had no plans to release the numbers of homes destroyed _ insisting residents have a right to be told first, in private.
The FBI said it was investigating the cause of the blaze.
In addition to the some 30,000 evacuees, about 3,000 more people were evacuated to the west of the fire, Teller County authorities said Wednesday, and Teller County courts were closed through Thursday.
The Red Cross was accommodating victims at its shelters, with space enough for perhaps 2,500 people. Most evacuees were staying with family and friends.
Crews also were battling a deadly and destructive wildfire in northern Colorado and another that flared Tuesday night near Boulder.
Colorado wasn't the only state affected by fire, as several burned throughout the parched West.
Tom Harbour, director of fire and aviation management for the U.S. Forest Service, said there is competition for firefighting resources, including aircraft. "We're still at a point where we've got lots of available assets to mix and match on individual incidents."
Some states are seeing fires earlier this year, but Harbour said resources are far from being exhausted.
"With over 10,000 firefighters in the Forest Service and the ability to get over 700 aircraft of all types, we're feeling cautiously confident when you look at the season as a whole," Harbour said.
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Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming, contributed to this report.