A raging wildfire has destroyed dozens of houses overnight and charred land on the edges of the US Air Force Academy, while thick smoke and intense, towering flames kept officials from learning the full scope of damage to Colorado's second-largest city.
The wildfire spread 24 square miles, and has so far 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 US Air Force Academy.
The fire burned about 10 acres of land along the south-west boundary of the academy's 28-square-mile boundary, but no injuries or damage to academy structures have been reported.
Steve Cox, an aide to Mayor Steve Bach, said on Wednesday morning that the blaze had consumed dozens of houses elsewhere.
Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the mountain foothills west of the city. Bright yellow and orange flames flared in the night, often signalling another home lost to the Waldo Canyon Fire, which is the number one priority for US firefighters.
The White House said President Barack Obama would tour the fire area on Friday.
"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Governor John Hickenlooper said after flying over the nine-square-mile fire late on 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 Air Force Academy campus on Tuesday, and the school told more than 2,200 residents to evacuate 600 households in one housing area.
About 90 firefighters from the academy and nearby fire departments were battling the encroaching flames.
It was not immediately clear how close the fire was to the academy's signature building, the aluminium, glass and steel Cadet Chapel. The chapel dorms, classrooms and other central buildings are clustered in the northwest quadrant of the campus.