32,000 evacuated in Waldo fire

The Associated Press
RJ Sangosti, The Denver PostStructures can be seen burning as the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs rages out of control, Tuesday.

WOODLAND PARK – Air Force Academy officials were evacuating roughly one-third of households on the school’s grounds Tuesday night as heavy smoke billowed from a wildfire north of Colorado Springs.

The school said it was evacuating 693 residents from 209 households that are part of Pine Valley Housing at the academy, but an area of the 28-square-mile campus that houses cadets wasn’t immediately evacuated. A new class of 1,045 cadets is still scheduled to report on Thursday.

Around 32,000 other residents in El Paso County have been ordered to leave, according to The Denver Post.

Fire information officer Greg Heule said earlier Tuesday that the fire was less than 5 miles from the southwest corner of the academy’s campus, but winds have been shifting.

In Boulder County, officials were evacuating 26 households due to a new wildfire Tuesday afternoon. They also sent nearly 2,500 pre-evacuation notices affecting an unknown number of residents. The fire started southwest of Boulder after a storm with lightning but little rain moved through the area, county officials said.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research was voluntarily evacuating, and nearby residents were warned to be ready to leave if necessary, Boulder County officials said.

At the fire in northern Colorado, authorities updated the number of homes destroyed to 257 after they found nine others that hadn’t been counted earlier. They said no additional homes had burned.

The blazes were among at least a half-dozen across the state amid dry conditions and 100-degree temperatures.

The fire west of Colorado Springs grew about 1 square mile overnight to 7 square miles.

“We’re packed and ready to go in case we’re told that we need to go, but we won’t go unless we actually have to,” said Roxanne Roberts, who lives between Crystola and Woodland Park. “So, we’re kind of prepared. We just don’t know where we’ll go.”

The fire, which started Saturday, was 5 percent contained. The cause was under investigation.

Two specially equipped Air Force C-130 planes helped fight the fire Monday. A third is expected Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday that it has authorized federal funds to help defray costs of fighting that fire and another fire in southwest Colorado that threatened 105 homes.

Some hiking trails leading west from the Air Force Academy campus have been closed, Tech Sgt. Raymond Hoy said. July 4 events on base were canceled due to the fire.

School health officials are monitoring air quality, and commanders are discussing further precautions they might take if the fire moves closer.

Sightings of deer and bear on campus have increased since Monday, Hoy said, probably because the animals are fleeing the fire.

Some gas stations in Woodland Park, northwest of the fire, ran out of gasoline Tuesday.

Smoke and poor air quality prompted the Colorado Springs Sky Sox minor league baseball team to postpone its game Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the fire 15 miles west of Fort Collins grew to about 136 square miles and was 55 percent contained. The fire killed one person. The 257 homes destroyed is a state record for a single fire.

Lightning started the fire on June 9.

Incident commander Beth Lund said she was optimistic about holding and extending fire lines despite hot, dry weather.

Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Tuesday in Denver and at least 11 other locations, including the northeastern Colorado town of Wray, which hit 108, the National Weather Service said.

It was the fifth consecutive day with temperatures of 100 degrees or higher in Denver, tying a record set in 2005 and 1989. On Tuesday, Denver hit 105 degrees, tying the record high for Denver.

The Last Chance grass fire on Colorado’s eastern plains was fully contained after destroying four homes, 10 outbuildings and a county bridge. Located about 60 miles east of Denver, the fire was started by sparks from a tire blowout, Washington County Sheriff Larry Kuntz said.

Associated Press writer Rema Rahman in Denver contributed to this report.

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