published Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Colorado wildfire victims crowd shelters

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — 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 people frantically packed up belongings after the Waldo Canyon Fire 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.

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

The full scope of the 24-square-mile fire, which doubled in size overnight, 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, though he had no more precise figure.

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.

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown insisted his personnel heroically saved many homes in the midst of the firestorm.

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