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'Epic' Wildfire Sends Tens Of Thousands Scrambling For Safety In Colorado

"A firestorm of epic proportions" has engulfed parts of Colorado Springs, Colo., local Fire Chief Rich Brown said Tuesday evening as thousands of people fled his city's western side.

Colorado Springs' The Gazette adds that while there had been no reports of injuries or deaths by late Tuesday, "police and fire scanners were filled with tales of multiple homes burning at a time."

According to the newspaper, "firefighters went into 'triage' mode, going past homes that were beyond help to save those that could be saved."

The Denver Post says the three-day-old wildfire "erupted with catastrophic fury. ... An apocalyptic plume of smoke covered Colorado's second-largest city as thousands of people forced to evacuate clogged Interstate 25 at rush hour trying to get to their homes or to get out of the way. By nightfall, roughly 32,000 people left their homes, chased out by the flames."

"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said after flying over the 9-square-mile fire late Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. "It's almost surreal. You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."

The Flying W. Ranch, an attraction west of Colorado Springs, has been "burned to the ground," according to its website.

Denver's KUSA-TV has a video report showing from Tuesday night in Fort Collins. "This is a worst-case scenario," the station says, as winds are blowing the fire across very dry areas.

Fort Collins isn't the only place in Colorado in the path of flames. Conditions are dry across much of the state. Tens of thousands of residents, including those in Colorado Springs, have been forced to flee. And as the Post writes:

"At the same time the fire in Colorado Springs was erupting with a new fury, a lightning-sparked wildfire in Boulder blew up in the tinder-dry forest above the city. The Flagstaff fire grew in minutes to an estimated 228 acres and sent a smoke column over Boulder Valley. Twenty-six homes were evacuated, and residents of more than 2,000 homes in south Boulder were told to be ready to flee as the fire crept one ridge away from coming into the city."

Public policies have contributed to the catastrophes, according to our colleagues at KUNC:

"The number of wildfires in Colorado has exploded during the past decade. So has the number of people living in high-risk fire zones.

"And public policies for dealing with both actually risk making the state's fire danger even worse, an I-News Network investigation found."

Update at 9:20 a.m. ET: The official updates from the federal interagency task force about the fire threatening Colorado Springs is online here. In the box about the fire's growth potential there's one ominous word: "extreme."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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