Wildfires spread to tourist centres in the US25/06/2012 - 07:44:39
Wildfires moved in on some of Colorado’s most popular summer tourist destinations over the weekend, demolishing nearly two dozen homes near Rocky Mountain National Park and emptying hotels and campsites.
A wildfire near Colorado Springs erupted and grew out of control to more than three square miles early on Sunday, prompting the evacuations of more than 11,000 residents and an unknown number of tourists.
And on Saturday, a blaze destroyed 21 structures near the mountain community of Estes Park, where many visitors stay while visiting the national park.
Half the nation’s firefighting fleet is now battling fires in Colorado, said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. He said military support in the form of C-130 military transport planes from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs would begin assisting today.
With eight wildfires burning, including a fire that has scorched more than 118 square miles and destroyed at least 191 homes near Fort Collins, Colorado is having its worst wildfire season in a decade.
“People recognise this is going to take a big push” to extinguish, Mr Hickenlooper said from a Colorado Springs grocery store, where volunteers were passing out burritos, sandwiches and drinks to 350 firefighters.
All of this came just a week before Independence Day on July 4, a key time for family vacations to national parks and other destinations. A statewide ban on open campfires and private fireworks has been in place for more than a week.
Summer travellers have seen some of their favourite sites closed to the public, obscured by smoke and haze.
“We’re used to flooding and tornados, nothing like this,” said Amanda Rice who evacuated a Manitou Springs hotel late on Saturday with her husband, four children and dog. Some travellers were awoken with evacuation orders. Mrs Rice, scared when she saw flames late on Saturday, took her family to the evacuation centre before she was told to go.
Plumes of grey and white smoke poured from the mountains yesterday, obscuring at times Pikes Peak, the most-summited high-elevation mountain in the nation and inspiration for the song America The Beautiful. Winds were pushing smoke away from Colorado Springs, but residents and tourists watched nervously as haze wrapped around the famed peak.
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 centres.
The wildfire near Rocky Mountain National Park destroyed vacation cabins and closed the most commonly used entrance to the park. Clouds of smoke blew toward the 102-year-old Stanley Hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.
Elsewhere in the West, firefighters made progress against wildfires in Utah, New Mexico and California.
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