- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

COLORADO SPRINGS — Fire crews fought to save the U.S. Air Force Academy, and residents begged for information on the fate of their homes Wednesday after a night of terror sent thousands of people fleeing a raging Colorado Springs wildfire.

More than 30,000 have been displaced by the fire, including thousands who frantically packed up belongings Tuesday night after it barreled into neighborhoods in the foothills west and north of Colorado’s second-largest city. With flames looming overhead, they clogged roads shrouded in smoke and flying embers, their fear punctuated by explosions of bright orange flame that signaled yet another house had been claimed.

“The sky was red, the wind was blowing really fast and there were embers falling from the sky,” said Simone Covey, a 26-year-old mother of three who fled an apartment near Garden of the Gods park and was staying at a shelter. “I didn’t really have time to think about it. I was just trying to keep my kids calm.”

Constantly shifting winds challenged firefighters trying to contain the 28-square-Mile Waldo Canyon blaze and extinguish hot spots inside the city’s western suburbs. The National Weather Service reported 60 mph winds and lightning above the fire on Wednesday afternoon.

“It won’t stay in the same place,” said incident commander Rich Harvey.

Some 3,000 more people were evacuated to the west of the fire, Teller County authorities said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the White House said President Obama will tour fire-stricken areas of Colorado on Friday and thank firefighters battling some of the worst fires to hit the American West in decades.

City Police Chief Richard Carey insisted that Mr. Obama’s visit to Colorado, considered a key battleground state in the presidential election, would not tax an already-strained police force.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said he expected the president might sign a disaster declaration that would allow for more federal aid.

The full scope of the fire remained unknown. So intense were the flames and so thick the smoke that rescue workers weren’t able to tell residents which structures were destroyed and which ones were still standing.

Indeed, authorities were too busy Wednesday struggling to save homes in near-zero visibility to count how many had been destroyed in what is the latest test for a drought-parched and tinder-dry state. Crews also were battling a deadly and destructive wildfire in northern Colorado and another that flared Tuesday night near Boulder.

The Waldo Canyon Fire burned about 10 acres along the southwest boundary of the Air Force Academy campus. No injuries or damage to structures - including the iconic Cadet Chapel - were reported. With 90 firefighters battling the flames, Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael Gould insisted that 1,500 cadets taking summer classes and more than 1,000 freshmen arriving Thursday will be safe - with campus ceremonies or housing to be moved away from the fire-hit area or off-campus if needed.

Colorado wasn’t the only state affected by fire, as several burned throughout the parched West.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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