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Colorado wildfires force thousands to evacuate

June 24, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Karen Bodine loads alfalfa as her husband, Greg Bodine, left, and her father, Duane Schormann, put animals into a trailer as a wildfire burns near Schormann's home in Cascade, Colo.
Karen Bodine loads alfalfa as her husband, Greg Bodine, left, and her father,… (Christian Murdock / Associated…)

Two wildfires ravaging Colorado have forced 11,000 evacuations and destroyed more than 200 homes.

The Waldo Canyon fire forced the complete evacuation of Manitou Springs over the weekend and evacuations from nearby Colorado Springs and a number of small communities along Highway 24, according to Rob Deyerberg, a spokesman for the firefighters battling the blaze.

"We're used to flooding and tornadoes, nothing like this," Amanda Rice of Rock Falls, Ill., told the Associated Press.

She left a Manitou Springs hotel late Saturday with her husband, four children and dog, according to the AP, and took her family to an evacuation center before she got an order to leave. Others were awakened by evacuation orders in the middle of the night.

"It was just this God-awful orange glow,” Rice said of the flames. “It was surreal. It honestly looked like hell was opening up.”

Conditions have been difficult for firefighters battling multiple blazes in the West.

“The challenges are extremely hot conditions — a near record today — and low humidity,” Deyerberg said of Colorado’s triple-digit heat on Sunday. He added, though, “Our firefighters on land and in the air have had tremendous success today.”

No buildings have been destroyed by the 2,000-acre Waldo Canyon fire, he said. The cause was still under investigation.

The same cannot be said for the High Park fire  in the Roosevelt National Forest 15 miles west of Firt Collins. Officials prepared Sunday night to increase their count of buildings destroyed after meeting with citizens.

“We know we’re over 200, but we don’t have a specific count yet,” said Reghan Cloudman, a spokeswoman for the High Park firefighting effort.

The 82,114-acre fire remained only 45% contained, with firefighters struggling to contain its northern and western perimeters, where a thick population of beetle-killed trees has provided ready fuel for the fire.

About 3,100 evacuation notices remain in effect for the High Park fire.

“There’s a lot of line left to build,” Cloudman said of firefighters’  struggle to contain the blaze in rough terrain. “Wind continues to be a concern. I believe it’s our sixth red-flag warning in eight days — we’re continuing to have warm temperatures and low fuel moisture.”

Gov. John W. Hickenlooper told the AP that half of the nation’s aerial firefighting fleet is now deployed in Colorado, with more military transport planes expected to deploy from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs on Monday.

Officials have pegged the cost of the High Park fire at $27.6 million so far.

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