COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Wildfires moved in on some of Colorados most popular summer tourist destinations over the weekend, demolishing nearly two dozen homes near Rocky Mountain National Park and emptying hotels and campgrounds at the base of Pikes Peak.
A wildfire near Colorado Springs erupted and grew out of control to more than 3 square miles early Sunday, prompting the evacuation of more than 11,000 residents and an unknown number of tourists. On Saturday, a blaze destroyed 21 structures near the mountain community of Estes Park, where many visitors stay while visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park.
With Colorado midway through its worst wildfire season in a decade, travelers have seen some of their favorite sites closed to the public, obscured by smoke and haze.
Were used to flooding and tornadoes, nothing like this, said Amanda Rice of Rock Falls, Ill., who evacuated a Manitou Springs hotel late Saturday with her husband, four children and dog.
It was just this god-awful orange glow. It was surreal. It honestly looked like hell was opening up, Rice said Sunday.
Families planning whitewater rafting trips or visits to the stunning red-rock formations in Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs were instead spending their vacations passing out bottled water and setting up cots in evacuee centers.
They included Mark Stein of Morristown, N.J., whose family arrived after midnight Sunday at their Manitou Springs hotel for a week of whitewater rafting and sightseeing.
With his wife and two sons, Stein spent the first night of his vacation setting up cots for more than 200 evacuees who slept at a school.
I think its the best vacation ever. This is what the real world is about. Theres a lot of people that need help, Stein said.
Also Sunday, a brushfire that began near Elbert, about 50 miles southwest of Denver, quickly spread to about 60 acres, forcing the evacuation of about 100 residents.
Half the nations firefighting fleet is now battling fires in Colorado, said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. He said C-130 military transport planes from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs would begin assisting today.
Elsewhere in the West, firefighters made progress against wildfires in Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
In Utah, a 12.5-square-mile blaze around Fountain Green in Sanpete County was threatening 200 homes in four rural subdivisions, forcing 800 people to 1,000 people to flee.
In California, a wildfire about 60 miles north of Los Angeles triggered evacuations of campgrounds around an off-road recreation area on Saturday.
In New Mexico, a lightning-caused wildfire that destroyed 242 homes and businesses is 90 percent contained. The 69-square-mile fire near Ruidoso began June 4. Meanwhile, the largest wildfire in state history was 87 percent contained, having burned more than 464 square miles after two blazes merged on May 16.
In Arizona, the U.S. Forest Service said containment against the Pecos Fire, just outside of Young, is up to 50 percent and remains under 12,000 acres.