Hundreds of homes destroyed in Colorado fire

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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.

Colorado Springs police Chief Peter Carey said Mr. Obama’s visit to Colorado, considered a key battleground state in the presidential election, would not tax the city’s 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 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.

Late Wednesday night, Air Force Academy officials announced they were relocating about 550 cadets off academy grounds. About 200 cadets in summer academics were being moved to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and 350 others in airmanship and other training programs were released to local sponsor families, the school said. The cadet area isn’t immediately threatened, and an incoming class of more than 1,000 is still scheduled to arrive Thursday.

About 120 soldiers from nearby Fort Carson built firebreaks around parts of the academy, aided by equipment including 10 heavy bulldozers, four excavators, 13 military transportation and support vehicles, and one commercial road grader, Army officials said.

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. Steve Cox, a spokesman for Mayor Steve Bach, reported that at least dozens of homes had been consumed.

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. At one point, a team assessing the damage had to leave charred neighborhoods because of smoke and fire danger.

Mr. Carey said officials had no plans to release the numbers of homes destroyed — insisting that residents have a right to be told first, in private.

The FBI said it was investigating the cause of the blaze.

In addition to the some 30,000 evacuees, about 3,000 more people were evacuated to the west of the fire, Teller County authorities said Wednesday, and Teller County courts were closed through Thursday.

The Red Cross was accommodating victims at its shelters, with space enough for perhaps 2,500 people. Most evacuees were staying with family and friends.

Crews also were battling a deadly and destructive wildfire in northern Colorado and another that flared Tuesday night near Boulder.

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

Among the fires elsewhere in the West:

• A 72-square-mile wildfire in central Utah has destroyed at least 56 structures, mainly homes, and continues to burn with little containment, authorities said Wednesday. Officials expected the damage estimate to rise considerably as they continue their assessment of the fire-ravaged area between Fountain Green and Fairview and north across the Utah County line. Officials returned to an evacuated area and found a woman dead Tuesday.

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