Colorado crews face heat, wind at huge wildfires today |

Colorado crews face heat, wind at huge wildfires today

The Associated Press
The sun sets as seen from Lower Gold Camp Road as a wildfire continues to burn west of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Sunday, June 24, 2012. The fire erupted Saturday and grew out of control to more than 3 square miles early Sunday, prompting the evacuation of more than 11,000 residents and an unknown number of tourists. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Susannah Kay)
AP | The Colorado Springs Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Firefighters braced for hot temperatures and high winds Monday as they battled a wildfire west of Colorado Springs that forced about 6,000 people from their homes and dealt a blow to the state’s tourism industry.

The fire near Colorado Springs had blackened 5.3 square miles but no homes had been destroyed, fire managers said. The fire had been listed at 6 square miles but officials reduced the estimate after more precise mapping.

Another wildfire near Fort Collins has blackened 130 square miles, killed one person and destroyed at least 248 homes, the worst property loss to fire in state history.

Colorado is having its worst wildfire season in a decade, and the fires have emptied hotels and campgrounds ahead of the July Fourth weekend.

The National Weather Service warned a heat wave in Colorado is expected to send temperatures soaring over 100 degrees in many places statewide, creating a critical fire danger.

Meteorologist Kyle Fredin said Monday the temperature could exceed 100 degrees on the eastern plains, and hit 101 in Grand Junction.

A red flag warning for high fire danger is in effect across the state after a number of wildfires broke out. The weather service called the situation critical.

The fire west of Colorado Springs sent plumes of gray and white smoke into the sky, at times obscuring Pikes Peak, the inspiration for the song “America The Beautiful.”

About 11,000 people had been evacuated because of that fire, but winds started to push smoke away from Colorado Springs and evacuations orders were lifted for the 5,000 residents of nearby Manitou Springs.

Residents and tourists still watched nervously as haze wrapped around the peak.

“We’re used to flooding and tornadoes, nothing like this,” said Amanda Rice, who recently moved to the area from Rock Falls, Ill.

Frightened when she saw flames, Rice took her family to the evacuation center before she was told to go.

“It was just this God-awful orange glow. It was surreal. It honestly looked like hell was opening up,” she said Sunday.

Large fires are burning elsewhere across the West, but half the nation’s aerial firefighting fleet has been deployed in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper said. He said C-130 military transport planes from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs would begin assisting Monday.

“People recognize this is going to take a big push” to extinguish, Hickenlooper said Sunday from a Colorado Springs grocery store, where volunteers were passing out burritos, sandwiches and drinks to 350 firefighters working near Pikes Peak.

The state has banned open campfires and private fireworks.

A fire near Rocky Mountain National Park destroyed 22 homes and two outbuildings in the community of Estes Park.

The Estes Park fire destroyed vacation cabins and closed the most commonly used entrance to the park. Clouds of smoke blew toward the 102-year-old Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King to write “The Shining.”

Residents of a subdivision near the northern Colorado city of Fort Collins learned over the weekend that 57 more homes had been lost to the High Park Fire, which already had claimed 191 homes, authorities said.

The High Park Fire is the second-largest wildfire and among the most expensive in Colorado’s history.

Travelers have seen some of their favorite sites closed to the public, obscured by smoke and haze. Some travelers were awakened with evacuation orders.

Families planning whitewater rafting trips or visits to the stunning red-rock formations in Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs were instead spending their vacations passing out bottled water and setting up cots in evacuee centers.

They included Mark Stein, of Morristown, N.J., whose family arrived after midnight Sunday at their Manitou Springs hotel for a week of whitewater rafting and sightseeing.

“We were sleeping for 15 minutes when they started knocking on the door – a day from hell,” Stein said of the day of travel. With his wife and two sons, Stein spent the first night of his vacation setting up cots for more than 200 evacuees who slept at the school.

“I think it’s the best vacation ever. This is what the real world is about.There’s a lot of people that need help,” Stein said.

Also Sunday, a brushfire that began near Elbert, about 50 miles southwest of Denver, quickly spread to about 60 acres, forcing the evacuation of about 100 residents.

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