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Fires burn structures in Colo.

Brian Bowen/The Pueblo Chieftain

Visitors and employees leave the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park on Tuesday as smoke billows skyward from a fire near the gorge in western Fremont County west of Cañon City. The fire burning on an estimated 300 acres south of Royal Gorge led to the evacuation of the park, the Bureau of Land Management said.

By THOMAS PEIPERT
Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS – At least four major wildfires fueled by hot, gusty weather burned along the front of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado on Tuesday, destroying a handful of large houses and chasing people from hundreds of homes.

Thick smoke plumes visible for miles billowed from fires near Colorado Springs, in southern Colorado and in Rocky Mountain National Park to the north.

A wildfire in a heavily wooded residential area northeast of Colorado Springs led to the mandatory evacuations of more than 1,000 homes, including some worth more than $1 million, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

Video from a helicopter showed several large homes engulfed in flames. About eight homes had burned, Maketa said, but he had no exact number because the fire was moving so quickly across the parched forest.

“Right now, the firefighters are more focused on fighting fires, drawing lines. And law enforcement, to be very honest, is scrambling to get people out of there as well as do searches,” Maketa said. He said firefighters have shifted from evacuation mode to search-and-rescue mode.

Military officials said a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the Colorado Army National Guard and three helicopters from Fort Carson were helping firefighters. Another National Guard helicopter was on standby for search-and-rescue operations.

The area is not far from last summer’s devastating Waldo Canyon Fire that destroyed 346 homes and killed two.

“It’s very, very reminiscent of what we experienced in Waldo Canyon,” Maketa said.

All of the wildfires were moving quickly, driven by record temperatures and strong winds.

The conditions were making it difficult to build containment lines around the fire, and sparks jumped across them.

“Weather is not working with us right now, but our guys are giving it a heck of a shot,” Maketa said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in any of the fires.

In southern Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management said three structures have been lost in a fire on about 6 square miles near the Royal Gorge Bridge. Authorities evacuated Royal Gorge Bridge & Park.

A third wildfire in southern Colorado erupted Tuesday in rural Huerfano County. The Klikus Fire had burned an estimated 45 to 50 acres west of La Veta, prompting evacuation orders for about 200 residences.

The cause of those fires wasn’t immediately confirmed.

A fourth wildfire sparked by lightning Monday in Rocky Mountain National Park quickly grew to an estimated 300 to 400 acres Tuesday. No structures were threatened.

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