Tens of thousands flee homes as Colorado wildfire doubles in size overnight
A towering wildfire jumped firefighters' perimeter lines and moved into the city of Colorado Springs, forcing frantic evacuation orders for more than 32,000 residents, including the U.S. Air Force Academy, and destroying an unknown number of homes.
The fire doubled in size overnight to more than 24 square miles fire information officer Rob Dyerberg said Wednesday.
Authorities held a morning press conference Wednesday and urged residents to stay indoors because the air quality has deteriorated. They also denied rumors that they're aware of what started the fires.
"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the fire late Tuesday. "It's almost surreal."
Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the foothills west of the city as the Waldo Canyon Fire has become the top challenge for the nation's firefighters.
With flames cresting a ridge high above its campus, the Air Force Academy told more than 2,100 residents to evacuate.
Authorities say they're fighting the fire with multiple agencies and are utilizing heavy machinery and manpower to prevent the fire from spreading. Recent windy weather has hurt their effort.
Elsewhere, fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts and bandanas to breathe through the smoke.
Throughout the 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 central Utah, authorities found one woman dead Tuesday when they returned to an evacuated area, marking the first casualty in a blaze that consumed at least two dozen homes. Sanpete County sheriff's officials said they hadn't identified the victim.
The cause of the Waldo Canyon fire remained under investigation.
In northern Colorado, another fire has destroyed 257 homes, authorities said. That fire was triggered by lightning June 9.