Colorado fire near Pike's Peak forces 11,000 from homes

DENVER Mon Jun 25, 2012 4:39am IST

1 of 16. The city of Colorado Springs (foreground), Colorado is seen in the path of the Waldo Canyon wildfire burning in the mountains west of the city, June 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

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DENVER (Reuters) - A fast-growing wildfire that blew up overnight in Colorado has forced 11,000 people from their homes and was threatening popular summer camping grounds beneath Pike's Peak, which bills itself as the most visited mountain in North America.

Live summit video from the 14,115-foot (4,302-metre) peak on Sunday showed plumes of dark smoke billowing in the air, and a cog railway that ferries tourists up the side of the famous mountain was shut down because of the wildfires.

The blaze in the Pike National Forest, known as the Waldo Canyon Fire, has consumed about 2,500 acres since Saturday and triggered evacuation orders for 11,000 people from Colorado Springs and nearby communities, fire officials said.

"This is a very, very volatile situation," said emergency worker Rob Deyerberg at the fire joint information center.

The blaze was just one of 20 uncontrolled fires raging in U.S. states on Sunday, mostly in the West, stoked by wind and high temperatures. A fresh blaze in neighboring Utah forced about 1,000 people from their homes in that state.

Of those evacuated in Colorado, about 6,200 people were cleared from Manitou Springs, often used as a base for travel to Pike's Peak and the Garden of the Gods, a recreation area popular with climbers, fire department spokesman Dave Hunting said.

Authorities also ordered residents to leave Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and Cascade, according to the fire incident command. No buildings had been lost to the Waldo Canyon Fire as of Sunday morning, but the flames could threaten houses if the wind shifts, Deyerberg said.

The Waldo Canyon blaze came as firefighting resources were already stretched by the monster High Park blaze that was raging out of control west of Fort Collins and has destroyed 200 homes since it was ignited by lightning two weeks ago. Another fire destroyed 21 homes 18 miles away in Estes Park on Saturday.

The High Park Fire - the second-largest on record in the state and its most destructive - consumed 82,114 acres in steep canyons and has continued to spread west into inaccessible areas. It is blamed for the death of a 62-year-old grandmother in her mountain cabin.

"This fire continues to be persistent and find new areas that it can burn," incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said.

Temperatures reached into the triple digits in many parts of Colorado on Saturday, including a record 104 degrees (40 C) in Denver, where the temperature was expected to reach 102 (38.9 C)on Sunday.

FRESH UTAH EVACUATIONS

In Utah, the fresh Wood Hollow fire pushed thousands of people from their homes in the rural communities of Fountain Green and Indianola on Sunday, and forced a 15-mile (24-km) closure of state highway 89.

Fueled by gusty winds the 8,000-plus-acre (3,240-ha) fire was growing rapidly since it started Saturday evening in the foothills near Fountain Green, about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City, Interagency Fire Center spokesman Don Carpenter said.

An exact cause of the fire was under investigation, although Carpenter said it was human-caused.

The fire has burned up over a mountain ridge through grass, sage, pinion juniper and alpine firs, and by mid-day Sunday was burning down north-facing slopes into a small valley, Carpenter said.

"Everything is so dry and the temperatures are so high, it doesn't take much to have it go," he said, adding that about 64 firefighters were fighting the fire, with additional crews on the way. A PV-2 air tanker was providing air support.

Further north, crews were still battling the Dump fire, 35 miles south of Salt Lake City. It was 40 percent contained on Sunday, U.S. Forest Service fire information officer Kim Osborn said.

The 6,023-acre (2,437-ha) fire was started Thursday by target shooters and had earlier forced the evacuation of nearly 600 homes. Evacuation orders there were lifted on Saturday after keeping residents away about 30 hours.

On Sunday, Osborn said the fire was burning on a ridge a good distance from any structures, but fire managers were closely watching for shifting afternoon winds.

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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