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Aided by heat, wildfires' toll reaches almost 1.4 million acres

June 26, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Blistering heat has hindered firefighting efforts across the West, particularly in Colorado, where the damaged regions continue to expand and the number of evacuations continue to grow in tourist areas around Pikes Peak.

Wide areas of several states, including Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, remain under red-flag warnings, indicating extreme heat and low moisture that has turned foliage into a tinderbox waiting for the right spark -- either from man or nature -- to ignite wildfires.

So far this year, fires have destroyed nearly 1.4 million acres, closing in on the annual average of 1.9 million acres over the last 10 years, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Temperatures in Colorado are expected to exceed 100 degrees again today, extending the previous four days' record-setting temperatures in Denver and northern Colorado.

The state's $5-billion tourism industry is expected to take a hit, particularly around Pikes Peak, a highly popular tourist spot near its second-most-populous city, Colorado Springs. Flames from the Waldo Canyon fire, which created pillars of smoke nearly 20,000 feet high, could be seen from downtown, according to reports.

More than 500 workers are battling the Waldo Canyon blaze, which was reported on Saturday. It has grown to 5,168 acres and is considered just 5% contained, officials said this morning. The fire is expected to contained by July 16.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Almost 5,000 people from 2,599 homes have been forced to flee the fire. The Red Cross has established shelters in the Cheyenne Mountain High School and the Summit Elementary School Divide.

The weather has not been cooperating with firefighters.

A red-flag warning remains in effect, with winds gusting up to 25 mph. "These windy conditions may hamper firefighting efforts, especially the use of aircraft," officials said in a posting on their Incident Information System, or InciWeb, website.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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