Colorado Wildfire: ‘Highest Priority Fire’ In The Nation

Residents of one community and part of another outside Colorado Springs, Colo., were evacuating Wednesday as a “monster” fire more than doubled in size from Tuesday and a two-mile-wide wall of flame was burning down the backside of a ridge.

A rapidly spreading smoke cloud surrounds the U.S. Air Force Academy's airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 26, 2012. The Waldo Canyon fire is burning in the area of the Academy. Photo: US Air Force/Flickr

The Waldo Canyon Fire, burning near Manitou Springs, surged anew on Tuesday, moving quickly toward homes in the Cedar Heights subdivision.

According to The Huff Post, the residents of those homes are among the nearly 6,000 people still evacuated from Sunday when nearly 11,000 people were evacuated when the fire first broke out. The fire has now consumed 6,200 acres.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Crystola and part of Woodland Park after more than 32,000 people had to flee on Tuesday. How many new evacuees were moving out was not immediately available.

Fire officials said at an afternoon news briefing that wind was a big factor in fighting the blaze on Wednesday.

According to Denver Post, Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown said that on Wednesday, as was the case Tuesday, conditions are “erratic.”

Incident Commander Rich Harvey concurred. “I hate wind … Wind is big factor in how we do this fire. It won’t stay in the same place. The winds keep shifting on us.”

The fire is now moving down a ridge toward Teller County, writes MSN BC, citing communications from an emergency services scanner. “It’s huge,” said the voice over the scanner. “I would estimate two-three miles in width.”

Ash rained down as I-25 was jammed with evacuees and firefighting equipment.

Heavy smoke made for unhealthy air in and around the city.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s office announced about 1 p.m. that the pre-evacuation area had been expanded to Holland Park and Pleasant Valley.

Fear of weather and wind changes caused a mandatory evacuation of about 3,000 people in Woodland Park and part of Teller County this morning.

“We expect further trouble from the weather today,” incident commander Rich Harvey said at a press briefing. “We do expect all of our lines to be challenged today.”

On Wednesday Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called the Waldo Canyon Fire a “monster event” that is “not even remotely close to being contained.”

Record heat, high winds and low humidity are making this fire a difficult battle for firefighters.

“Monday was a tough day… tougher than Sunday,” fire information officer Greg Heule said. “Ninety degrees, 25 to 30 mph gusts. No cloud cover at all.”

The National Weather Service issued a forecast saying the next 48 hours would like be very challenging, as winds are forecast.

“We thought it was prudent to do a mandatory evacuation in case the winds did blow our way, especially after seeing what happened in Colorado Springs yesterday,” Woodland Park Mayor David Turley said.

The Haines Index — a scale of 1 to 6 (6 being the worst) that firefighters use to rank fire growth potential in a region — is at level “6” again Tuesday and into Wednesday, the same levels reached during last weekend’s extreme fire growth.

Approximately 600 firefighters are on the scene battling the blaze.

Among the evacuees were cadets and staff living in one section of the sprawling U.S. Air Force Academy. Flames crested a ridge high above the campus on Tuesday, forcing more than 2,100 residents there to flee.

The Air Force Academy is closed to visitors.

Colorado is battling 12 large fires, its worst fire season in history, and other states across the West are being taxed as well.

The White House said that President Barack Obama would tour the area on Friday to offer his support.

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