COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - A stubborn and towering wildfire jumped firefighters' perimeter lines in the hills overlooking Colorado Springs, forcing frantic mandatory evacuation notices for more than 9,000 residents, destroying an unknown number of homes and partially closing the grounds of the sprawling U.S. Air Force Academy.
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, the No. 1 priority for the nation's firefighters.
Interstate 25, which runs through Colorado Springs, was briefly closed to southbound traffic Tuesday. All told, officials said, evacuation orders affected as many as 32,000 residents.
"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."
With flames cresting a ridge high above its breathtaking, 28-square-mile campus, the Air Force Academy told more than 2,100 residents to evacuate 600 households. There was no immediate word on whether a new class of 1,045 cadets would report as scheduled on Thursday.
A curtain of flame and smoke teetered above the academy's Falcon Stadium; billowing gray clouds formed a backdrop to its aluminum, glass and steel Cadet Chapel, an icon of the academy. Elsewhere, police officers directing traffic and fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts and bandanas to breathe through the smoke.
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Richard Brown insisted that "many, many homes" were saved by firefighters. And Hickenlooper, who spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Tuesday, told anxious residents that "We have all the support of the U.S. government. We have all the support of the state of Colorado. And we want everybody here to know that."
Throughout the interior West, firefighters have toiled for days in searing, record-setting heat against fires fueled by prolonged drought. Most, if not all, of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana were under red flag warnings, meaning extreme fire danger.
In central Utah, authorities found one woman dead Tuesday when they returned to an evacuated area, marking the first casualty in a blaze that consumed at least two dozen homes. Sanpete County sheriff's officials said they hadn't identified the victim, whose remains were found during a damage assessment of the 60-square-mile Wood Hollow Fire near Indianola.
The Waldo Canyon fire, which started Saturday, was 5 percent contained before 65-mph wind gusts sent it surging toward Colorado Springs. The cause was under investigation.
And in northern Colorado, the 136-square-mile High Park Fire has destroyed 257 homes and killed one woman, authorities said. That fire was triggered by lightning June 9.
Hickenlooper insisted Colorado was open to tourism, saying Colorado's fires had affected just about a half-percent of all of the state's public lands and perhaps 400 of its 10,000 campground sites.
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