Thousands ordered to flee US wildfire

2012-06-27 18:02

Woodland Park - A towering wildfire jumped firefighters' perimeter lines and moved into the city of Colorado Springs, forcing frantic evacuation orders for about 32 000 residents, including the US Air Force Academy, and destroying an unknown number of homes.

Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the foothills west of the city as the Waldo Canyon fire became the top challenge for the nation's firefighters.

"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," said governor John Hickenlooper after flying over the fire.

"It's almost surreal."

With flames cresting a ridge high above its campus, the Air Force Academy told more than 2 100 residents to evacuate.

Elsewhere, fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts and bandanas to breathe through the smoke.

Firefighters throughout the west have toiled for days in searing, record-setting heat against fires fuelled 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 climate data centre.

In central Utah, authorities found one woman dead on 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, apparently triggered by lightning on 9 June