Nearly 30,000 people who fled as the Waldo Canyon Fire ripped through their neighborhoods near Colorado Springs on Tuesday night were hoping for good news on Wednesday, but firefighters warned that the blaze is now near the Air Force Academy and that only a tiny portion had been contained.
Additional mandatory evacuations were ordered in portions of the communities of Woodland Park and the local sheriff's department warned residents of the Holland Park and Pleasant Valley areas to be ready to evacuate.
The fire, which started Saturday, has burned 15,324 acres near Colorado's second largest city, fire officials said this morning. No injuries have been reported.
Overnight flames could be seen burning homes in the Mountain Shadow neighborhoods. With the light of dawn Wednesday, news helicopters reported seeing smoldering foundations.
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Richard Brown told a morning news briefing that homes had been burned overnight, but he declined to give any numbers.
"We're in an offensive position. We're doing everything we can to save homes," he said.
"Don't be deceived by what you see across the valley," he said, pointing to the haze of grey smoke hanging above the city. "Our people have been fighting that all night long -- they're fighting while we speak."
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office issued a pre-evacuation notice Wednesday morning to residents in the southwest part of the county. "The Waldo Canyon fire burning in El Paso County is expanding and poses a threat," the notification stated.
The affected area is bounded by the Palmer Divide Road on the south, Noe Road on the north, Spruce Mountain on the east, and Rampart Range Rd.on the west.
Those residents are advised to be ready for immediate evacation should conditions warrant.
Fire officials expect to have more than 1,000 firefighters battling the blaze Wednesday. Many of the firefighters will be concentrating within the
fire perimeter, using fire engines and water hoses to protect homes.
The Colorado Spring Police chief said his force and other jurisdictions was protecting the neighborhoods.
One of those neighborhoods is where Sandra Fales lives.
She wiped away tears Wednesday morning as she pulled out clothes for her three children from the trunk of her car. Fales and her children spent the night at the Red Cross shelter set up at the Southeast YMCA .
Shelters have also been set up at Lewis Palmer High School and Cheyenne Mountain High School.
After watching the fire for hours, Fales was ordered to evacuate around 11 p.m.
"I watched it roll down the hill as it took out everything," Fales said. "The flames just took it all out."
Fales lives in the west side of the city, off Fillmore Street. She said she does not know if her home survived the night, but she's not holding out hope.
"I'm just trying to compose myself before I go back inside to my kids," Fales said. "It's going to be 50 questions and I don't have the answers."
Today is Fales' 3-year-old daughter's birthday, she said.
Interstate 25 is open through the area, but the drivers trying to exit westbound at Woodmen Road, Nevada/Rockrimmon, and Garden of the God Road will be detoured. U.S. 24 is closed between Crystola and the Teller/El Paso County line.
The fire has reached the south side of Rampart Recreation Area and reservoir. Last night the fire crossed Queen's Canyon.
The fire line along the south side of U.S. 24 so far has held.
On Tuesday, Brown described the blaze as "a firestorm of epic proportions" as it raged over a ridge toward densely populated neighborhoods on the west side of Colorado Springs. The Air Force Academy was among the areas evacuated.
At the same time the fire in Colorado Springs was erupting with a new fury, a lightning-sparked wildfire in Boulder blew up in the tinder-dry forest above the city. The Flagstaff fire grew in minutes to an estimated 228 acres and sent a smoke column over Boulder Valley. Twenty-six homes were evacuated, and residents of more than 2,000 homes in south Boulder were told to be ready to flee as the fire crept one ridge away from coming into the city.
"This is the structure-protection plan," said Jeff Long, battalion chief for Boulder Fire Rescue. "We are staying here in case it takes a turn for the worse. As long as the city is threatened, we'll be here."
It is a scenario that firefighting officials have feared as the conditions continued to get worse over the past week.
Scorching temperatures have baked the Front Range for several days as thousands of firefighters on the ground and more than 100 planes and helicopters have been battling more than eight wildfires across the state.
Denver on Tuesday tied a record with its fifth straight day of temperatures of at least 100 degrees, and weather in the 90s is expected to continue for several days even as officials hoped that seasonal subtropical moisture would eventually creep into the region and bring much-needed rain.
While Colorado Springs and Boulder took over the headlines, crews working on the High Park fire west of Fort Collins was measured at 87,250 acres with still 55 percent containment. That fire, the most destructive in state history, has torched at least 257 homes, nine more than previously thought.
Conditions are dry throughout the state. Even a fire near Last Chance on the Eastern Plains blew up to 45,000 acres in just eight hours.
But as darkness arrived, it was clear that the biggest fight in the state was in Colorado Springs, where ghostly orange flames rose across the city's western edge.
Gov. John Hickenlooper arrived in Colorado Springs late Tuesday.
"The bottom line is we're just going to have to work through this -- all of us," Hickenlooper said. "We just flew over the fires. ... It was like looking at a military invasion."
Wind gusts of 65 mph and the hottest day on record for Colorado Springs -- the high hit 101 degrees -- proved to be an explosive combination for the Waldo Canyon fire, which until Tuesday had not touched a structure.
"I've seen a lot of fires, but I have never seen one move this quickly," Sheriff Maketa said.
By early evening, the website for the Flying W Ranch, a Western-themed attraction west of Garden of the Gods, announced that it had "burned to the ground."
"Please keep us in your thoughts and those whose homes are close to us," an official of the Flying W Ranch said in an e-mail.
Denver Post staff writers Kurtis Lee, Tom McGhee, Erin Udell and the Boulder Daily Camera contributed to this report.