Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire burns as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 26, 2012. (AP)
(AP) WOODLAND PARK, Colo. - A stubborn and towering wildfire jumped firefighters' perimeter lines in the hills overlooking Colorado Springs, forcing frantic mandatory evacuation notices for more than 9,000 residents, destroying an unknown number of homes and partially closing the grounds of the sprawling U.S. Air Force Academy.
Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the mountain foothills west of the city. Bright yellow and orange flames flared in the night, often signaling another home lost to the Waldo Canyon Fire, the No. 1 priority for the nation's firefighters.
Interstate 25, which runs through Colorado Springs, was briefly closed to southbound traffic Tuesday. All told, officials said, evacuation orders affected as many as 32,000 residents.
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"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the 9-square-mile fire late Tuesday. "It's almost surreal. You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."
With flames cresting a ridge high above its breathtaking, 28-square-mile campus, the Air Force Academy told more than 2,100 residents to evacuate 600 households. There was no immediate word on whether a new class of 1,045 cadets would report as scheduled on Thursday.
A curtain of flame and smoke teetered above the academy's Falcon Stadium; billowing gray clouds formed a backdrop to its aluminum, glass and steel Cadet Chapel, an icon of the academy. Elsewhere, police officers directing traffic and fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts and bandanas to breathe through the smoke.