News24

Colorado fires spread to tourist centres

2012-06-25 17:21

Colorado Springs - Flames forced thousands of Colorado residents from their homes over the weekend and disrupted vacation plans for countless visitors as smoke shrouded some of the state's top tourist destinations, including majestic Pike's Peak and tranquil Estes Park.

Colorado is having its worst wildfire season in a decade, with more than a half dozen forest fires burning across the state's parched terrain. Some hotels and campgrounds are emptying ahead of the busy Fourth of July holiday.
One of the newest fires, a blaze near Colorado Springs, grew to more than 6m² on Sunday after erupting just a day earlier and prompting evacuation orders for 11 000 residents and an unknown number of tourists.

The fire sent plumes of gray and white smoke over the area that obscured at times Pikes Peak, the most-summited high-elevation mountain in the nation and inspiration for the song America The Beautiful.

Winds had started to push smoke away from Colorado Springs and evacuations orders were lifted for the 5 000 residents of nearby Manitou Springs, but area residents and tourists still watched nervously as haze wrapped around the peak.

Firefighting

Even while other large fires burn across the West, Colorado's blazes have demanded half the nation's firefighting fleet, according to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. He said 130°C military transport planes from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs would begin assisting on Monday.

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

A statewide ban on open campfires and private fireworks has been in place for more than a week.

While no homes were reported damaged in the Colorado Springs-area fire, a forest fire near Rocky Mountain National Park destroyed structures near the mountain community of Estes Park. The Larimer County Sheriff's Office said on Sunday that 22 homes and two outbuildings had been burned.

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 that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.

Also over the weekend, residents of a subdivision near the northern Colorado city of Fort Collins learned that 57 more homes in their neighbourhood 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. It has scorched more than 340km² and was just 45% contained on Sunday, The Denver Post reported.