32,000 evacuated in fast-moving Colorado Springs wildfire


Story highlights

At least 32,000 people are forced out of their homes

Air Force Academy moves residents out of housing areas

Body found in evacuation area of Utah fire

Response team spokeswoman: "The fire conditions could not be worse"

Editor’s Note: Are wildfires blazing near you? Share photos and videos with iReport, but please stay safe.

CNN —  

A wind-fueled wildfire of epic proportions breached fire lines Tuesday and entered Colorado Springs, Colorado, bringing to at least 32,000 the number of people evacuated in the area and at the U.S. Air Force Academy, authorities said.

“The fire conditions could not be worse,” said Anne Rys-Sikora, spokeswoman for a multiagency fire response team. “It is like a convection oven out there.”

Residents of the North Mountain Shadows and Peregrine communities in Colorado Springs were ordered to leave their homes, authorities said.

Multiple structures in North Mountain Shadows were being affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire, officials said Tuesday night.

Colorado Springs set a record high of 101 on Tuesday as firefighters contended with brutal conditions, including ash falling on highways and neighborhoods. Officials rushed in crews and aerial equipment in a bid to slow the fire.

The 6,200-acre fire remained only 5% contained. Officials labeled it as exhibiting “extreme fire behavior.”

A grim weather forecast for the rest of the week left residents concerned.

“The fire is moving,” said Rys-Sikora.

The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs issued an evacuation order for about 700 residents in its Pine Valley Housing and 1,400 in Douglass Valley Housing, said public affairs officer John Van Winkle.

The academy’s powered flight, glider and parachuting operations were called off Saturday so that the U.S. Forest Service could use runways for helicopters used to fight fires along Colorado’s Front Range, Van Winkle said.

The academy’s Class of 2016, all 1,045 cadets, will arrive Thursday.

Town hall meetings about the Waldo Canyon Fire have drawn hundreds of concerned Colorado Springs residents.

“It’s one thing to hear of wildfires,” said Van Winkle. “it’s another to see it from a stop sign and from the back yard.”

Dave Barjenbruch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Boulder, said the past week has been hellish across Colorado.

“Even in the foothills, where most of the fires are going on, most days have been in the single-digit humidity,” he told CNN.

Thunderstorms such as the one that fed the Waldo Canyon Fire on Tuesday are heavy on fire-feeding gusty winds and low on much-needed rainfall, Barjenbruch said.

The forecast for Colorado Springs and much of the state doesn’t look encouraging, said Barjenbruch.

“Things don’t look like they are in a hurry to change here,” he said.

Meanwhile, a new fire in Boulder, northwest of Denver, prompted pre-evacuation notices to 2,300 phone numbers.

Colorado wildfires had consumed 181,426 acres by Wednesday afternoon, according to the Colorado Division of Emergency Management.

The largest of the fires was the High Park Fire, which began June 9 and has now consumed 87,284 acres, the U.S. Forest Service said. It was 65% contained Wednesday. The total number of homes burned stood at 257. An estimated $33.1 million has been spent trying to contain the blaze.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help fight the Waldo Canyon Fire after Colorado Springs and surrounding El Paso County declared an emergency, which allows them to receive state and federal aid.

The mandatory evacuation for Crystal Park was changed to voluntary, Rys-Sikora told CNN.

Almost all of Utah was under a red-flag warning, with at least three wildfires burning Tuesday.

Authorities said they found the body of one person after they entered the evacuated areas of the Wood Hollow Fire. The victim had not been identified, according to the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office

FEMA is providing funds to help fight the Wood Hollow Fire, which has grown to 39,000 acres since starting Saturday afternoon. Containment was 15%.

Tuesday, the east side of U.S. 89 had its evacuations lifted and residents in Fairview Ranchos were also let in. Sanpete County is leaving the evacuation orders in effect for the west side of Hwy 89.

West of Provo, Utah, the Dump Fire stood at 5,007 acres and was 100% contained, officials said.