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Destructive Colorado blaze doubles size overnight

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People flee the Waldo Canyon Fire with little time to spare as the fire burns through neighborhoods west of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The blaze left a trail of destruction, burning homes and buildings in it's path. Heavily populated areas in the fire's path have been affected. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. >> A towering Colorado wildfire destroyed dozens of houses overnight, though the intensity of the blaze kept officials from being able to fully assess the damage to the state’s second-largest city.

The fire, which doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles, has forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents, Colorado Springs emergency management director Brett Waters said. Among those urgently evacuated Tuesday evening were residents at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Steve Cox, an aide to Mayor Steve Bach, said Wednesday morning that the blaze has consumed dozens of houses. A more precise figure wasn’t available because of the intensity of the fire.

Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the mountain foothills west of the city. Bright yellow and orange flames flared in the night, often signaling another home lost to the Waldo Canyon Fire, which is the No. 1 priority for the nation’s firefighters.

"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the 9-square-mile fire late Tuesday. "It’s almost surreal. You look at that, and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before."

Flames crested a ridge above the scenic, 28-square-mile Air Force Academy campus on Tuesday, and the school told more than 2,100 residents to evacuate 600 households in one housing area.

By Wednesday, the smoke appeared farther away, said Lt. Col. John Bryan, an academy spokesman.

It wasn’t immediately clear how close the fire was to the academy’s signature building, the aluminum, glass and steel Cadet Chapel. The chapel dorms, classrooms and other central buildings are clustered in the northwest quadrant of the 28-square-mile campus.

More than 1,000 incoming freshman are scheduled to report to the academy as scheduled on Thursday, but the day’s events have been moved to a campus building farther from the fire, Bryan said.

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