Colorado wildfire expands viciously, Obama plans visit

June 28, 2012

By Keith Coffman

(Reuters) – Firefighters struggled on Wednesday to beat back a wildfire raging at the edge of Colorado Springs that doubled in size overnight, forced more than 32,000 people from their homes and was nipping at the edges of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The blaze, fanned by hot winds, has charred a number of homes on the wooded edges of the city and was prompting fresh evacuations on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama plans to travel to the area on Friday to view the damage. But in the chaos of the fire’s advance, officials could not say exactly how many homes were lost or how many more people might join the ranks of the displaced.

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called the firestorm threatening his city – in a metropolitan area of more than 650,000 people – “a monster” and said at this point flames were “not even remotely close to being contained.”

The fire, which has charred 15,517 acres in the shadow of the famed Pikes Peak mountaintop, was not as intense early on Wednesday as the day before, but would likely build up again as the temperature rises during the day, fire information officer Rob Deyerberg said.

The number of evacuees stood at 32,000 on Tuesday night, before some residents in Woodland Park, population 7,600, and surrounding areas were also told to leave their homes, Deyerberg said. He could not provide a total number of evacuees.

“The evacuation area is expanding as a precaution,” he said.

The blaze left an orange hue over Colorado Springs and the smell of smoke permeated the air. A spot fire hit on a vacant, southwest corner of the grounds of the Air Force Academy, which continues to operate but is closed to visitors, officials said.

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