Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

WALDO CANYON FIRE: Fire at 3,600 acres -- and growing

THE GAZETTE Updated: June 23, 2012 at 12:00 am

MONDAY UPDATES:

3:45 a.m. Monday: National Weather Service predicts hot and dry weather for the next week. Temperatures should reach 100 degrees Monday and Tuesday, gradually decreasing to high of 90 by Saturday.

Rain is not expected this week, except a possible late afternoon Wednesday thundershower in the nearby mountains.

Winds Monday and Tuesday should be 15-25 mph from the south, with gusts to 35. Winds are predicted at 10 mph Wednesday through Monday, the first two days from the south, from the east on Friday, and the southeast Saturday through Monday.

SUNDAY UPDATES

9:40 p.m.: City and county officials are asking motorists to "respect all barricades and closures" for their own safety and the safety of first responders.

9:28 p.m.: The Waldo Canyon Fire is now estimated at 3,600 acres -- and growing -- with zero containment.

"Fire personnel (is) focusing on infrastructure protection and containing the fire on the north side of Highway 24," according to a press release.

Officials also said a Type 1 National Team, described as the Navy Seals of firefighting, has has arrived in Colorado Springs and that the team has taken command.

8:54 p.m.: Firefighters are "working diligently" to contain and suppress the fire, the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release.

The protection of life, property and natural resources is the "top consideration," the agency said in the release.

"The overarching objective is to maintain the safety of the public and the firefighters who are battling this wildfire," the press release states.

The agency said there are 450 firefighters, three heavy air tankers, four Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT), one lead plane and two helicopters tackling the blaze.

"A Type 1 National Team and more resources will be onsite tomorrow. Type 1 teams come with the capability to handle the most complex incidents," the release states.

8:41 p.m.: The decision to lift the evacuation order for Manitou Springs was made by the Manitou Springs City Council and its fire chief, said the Rev. Dave Hunting, the fire department's chaplain and spokesman.

The fire burned close to the city Saturday night, but it changed direction Sunday, he said.

"The fuel has pretty well been burned off that caused all the problems last night," Hunting said.

The city still has units on standby, said Hunting, who thanked the community for its patience.

"It was just another example of this community pulling together in a real great way," he said.

8:36 p.m.: The El Paso County Citizens Service Center on Garden of the Gods Road will be open during normal business hours Monday.

All services will be available but El Paso County Public Health is urging residents with respiratory health problems to use caution because of heavy smoke.

8:32 p.m.: Now Colorado Springs is saying all city buses will run on normal schedules Monday.

Earlier, the city said Route 3 going into Manitou Springs would be affected.

But that is no longer the case since the evacuation order in Manitou Springs was lifted.

8:18 p.m.: The sun set with an eerily beautiful orange glow over the mountains.

At dusk, more than 50 cars parked along the road at the top of the mesa along Mesa Road near Garden of the Gods Club to see the fire and the sunset's brilliant colors.

Dozens of people milled around at the pullout, snapping pictures and visiting with each other.

At Coronado High School, people sat in lawn chairs on the football field and watched the sun set. Others set up tripods for their cameras, and TV satellite trucks lined the parking lot.

At The Gazette newsroom, several staffers ran to the roof of the building to take photos.

8:11 p.m.: Colorado Avenue is backed up north of 31st as Manitou residents head home.

"Manitou feels like a ghost town -- cars are streaming through but every business is closed," Gazette reporter Maria St. Louis-Sanchez tweeted.

8:08 p.m.: Teller County has determined that there are currently adequate supplies of gasoline available at numerous stations along Highway 24.

The county conducted an inventory of the gas stations, Sheryl Decker, county administrator, said in an email.

7:50 p.m.: Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado is accepting donations of clothing, furniture and other items for people who have been displaced by the fire, city and county officials said.

To find a store, go to discovermygoodwill.org.

7:43 p.m.: Residents are being advised to expect ashes and smoke to drift into the city of Colorado Springs this evening.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department will monitor for any hot spots

7:35 p.m.: News that the evacuation order in Manitou Springs was being lifted at 8 p.m. was greeted with relief from residents, including Jennifer Jeffcott, who had been staying at the Cheyenne Mountian High School evacuation center.

"I am glad to go home but very sad for mother earth," she said.

Not everybody was rushing home.

Joe Payne lives in Manitou but decided to spend the night in Colorado Springs.

"I don't want to rush back into an area where there were giant flames a day ago. I'll give them some more time," he said.

7:19 p.m.: The Pikes Peak Regional Hospital in Woodland Park said its emergency department remains open to "treat emergent medical issues."

However, all surgeries, diagnostic testing, and elective procedures for patients will be rescheduled because of the wildfire, spokeswoman Joanie Brady said in an email.

7:05 p.m.: At 8 p.m. the closure on westbound Highway 24 at 31st Street will be moved to the west entrance to Manitou Springs, near the Cave of the Winds, to allow residents and businesses to return, officials said.

6:44 p.m.: The Manitou Springs Fire Department is lifting mandatory evacuations as of 8 p.m. The evacuation order is still in effect in Crystal Park, which is in unincorporated El Paso County.

Other previously ordered evacuations remain in place.

While the evacuation order in Manitou Springs is being lifted, officials are warning people to be vigilant.

"Fire is unpredictable, so stay prepared," the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said on Twitter.

6:35 p.m.: The city of Colorado Springs says only one Mountain Metropolitan Transit bus route -- Route #3 from Colorado Avenue to Manitou Springs -- is being affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire at this point.

Colorado Avenue and 30th Street will be the first pick-up and the last drop-off location for passengers on West Colorado Avenue, the city said.

For updates, go to springsgov.com.

6:13 p.m.: The Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado says it has collected 80,000 pounds of food.

The group says it still needs snack item, canned meals and financial donations.

6:07 p.m.: County and city officials have issued a correction to say gas was shut off earlier in Cascade, not Green Mountain Falls.

6:00 p.m.: Officials say small animal pet food donations are no longer needed at the shelters.

However, the shelters may resume accepting donations in the future.

5:58 p.m.: Veterinarians no longer needed at the Penrose Equestrian Center, officials said.

5:55 p.m.: Woodland Park police dispatch received a report around 5:30 p.m. that a lightning bolt hit a house, but no report of a fire.

5:49 p.m.: The National Weather Service is reporting thunderstorms near Divide and Woodland Park, lead forecaster Larry Walrod said.

Walrod counted three lightning strikes near Woodland Park. And he said little -- if any -- rain appeared to hit the ground.

The bulk of the storm is northwest of Woodland Park. The storm is moving north, across the Douglas County line.

"This may have been the big threat for the night as far as thunderstorms,” Walrod said.

5:46 p.m.: The Waldo Canyon trail is at center of the burn area, and the trail had been impacted, a fire information officer said.

The trailhead for the popular hiking trail is located right off Highway 24.

5:42 p.m.: Cheyenne Mountain High School has reached its limit for pets. But there's still room for people.

Evacuees with pets are encouraged to seek out businesses taking in animals. Go to springsgov.com for a list of businesses.

5:39 p.m.: The Pikes Peak chapter of the American Red Cross said it doesn't need any more donations at shelters.

"We are at capacity," it said on Twitter.

However, financial donations are still welcome.

5:34 p.m.: The evacuation center at Cheyenne Mountain High School has enough pet food -- for now.

5:31 p.m.: Black Hills Energy has shut down gas to Green Mountain Falls.

5:25 p.m.: Fire crews have relied on two heavy tankers and four single-engine air tankers, plus two helicopters, one heavy and one light, said Greg Heule, fire information officer.

The heavy tankers carry 800 to 1,200 gallons of retardant. The single-engine tankers carry 400 gallons, Heule said.

The heavy helicopters carry up to 800 gallons of water, Heule said. The light helicopter typically carries supplies or crews.

On Monday, four C-130 aircraft, each likely to carry about 2,600 gallons retardant, will enter the firefight.

Lt. Col. Dave Condit, commander of the 302nd Airlift Wing, said the C-130s aircraft can carry 3,000 gallons, but the planes must be lighter due to elevation and heat.

"We are doing everything we can, as expediently as we can, to contribute to this effort," Condit said

5:20 p.m.: El Paso County is under a Wildfire Health Smoke Advisory. People with respiratory or heart problems are advised to stay inside.

5:18 p.m.: Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder said he's worried about the fire's economic impact on the city.

The Fourth of July week brings in the city's biggest profits, he said.

Still, he said, he hasn't heard any complaints from business owners.

5:12 p.m.: United Way is at capacity for volunteers, Mayor Steve Bach says on Twitter. Sign up at pparc.org and the Pikes Peak chapter of the American Red Cross will call if more volunteers are needed.

4:51 p.m.: The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Investigators have not been able to get close enough to the source of the fire to determine what caused it, Greg Heule said. It'll take investigators two or three days to get to the source, he said.

4:38 p.m.: The Penrose Equestrian Center doesn't need any more hay or fans, according to the El Paso County.

4:33 p.m.: Infrared photos will be taken of the area tonight to update the number of acres burned by the Waldo Canyon Fire.

The next media briefing will be at 8 a.m. Monday.

4:30 p.m.: No new evacuations have been issued as of 4:30 p.m.

"I don't think there's a risk of anything more devastating that that thing right there," Maketa said, referring to the Waldo Canyon Fire.

"This is probably the greatest natural threat we have ever seen in this community in the past 30 to 40 years," he said.

Fire mitigation in Cedar Heights helped prevent the fire from spreading today, officials said.

4:25 p.m.: About 11,000 people in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and El Paso County have been evacuated as a result of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Some people have refused to leave their homes, and they're being "documented," Maketa said.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department is asking residents to stay out of all parks to avoid another fire or rescue.

4:18 p.m.: While El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark talked to the media, a black plume of smoke puffed up from the hillside.

The fire has been declared a disaster so the county can get federal assistance if necessary, she said.

"Our job is to provide the financing in order to get the job done," Clark said, referring to local elected officials.

"Stay inside if possible due to heat and smoke," Clark added.

"We have made sure that all firefighters on the line know that our resources are available for them," says county Commission Chairwoman Amy Lathen.

4:13 p.m.: A Type 1 incident command team are taking over at 6 p.m.

"They are the Navy Seals of firefighting," said Jerri Marr, supervisor for the Pike and San Isabel National Forest.

About 1,600 homes have been evacuated, or requested to be evacuated, in El Paso County. About 3,000 people have been evacuated.

Nearly $300 million worth of property threatened by Waldo Canyon Fire, officials say.

"Conditions are changing every minute up on the hill," says Sheriff Terry Maketa.

4:12 p.m.: Smoke, fire and planes should be in the air for possibly several days, officials say.

4:09 p.m.: Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder said the city had an orderly evacuation. He thanked residents for their cooperation. The fire has not reached Manitou Springs, and no structures have been damaged, he said.

4:05 p.m.: "This is a day or a couple of days we have long dreaded would come," Mayor Steve Bach says during a press conference. The mayor is urging people who have been asked to evacuate to get out.

4:00 p.m.: A press conference is under way. Waldo Canyon Fire still estimated at 2,500 acres.

"We know it's grown. We just don't know how much," fire information officer Greg Heule said.

The fire has been "very active" Sunday and is growing northeast toward Cedar Heights, southwest toward Highway 24 and northwest toward Cascade and Green Mountain Falls, he said.

The fire has not crossed Highway 24. There are 450 crews on scene, and the numbers will grow tonight, officials say.

3:52 p.m.: The National Weather Service confirms that Colorado Springs tied its all-time high temperature mark today with 100 degrees. Firefighters have said that heat is driving the fire.

3:50 p.m. Salvation expects 300 evacuees for diinner at Cheyenne Mountain High School.

3:40 p.m. Add two more areas to the parks that have been closed because of high fire danger.

Colorado Springs city officials announced around 3:30 p.m. that North Cheyenne Canon park and High Drive, which runs from the top of the park to 26th Street, are being closed.

Palmer Park and Red Rock Canyon have also been closed because of fire danger. Garden of the Gods, Barr Trail, the Incline and the Pikes Peak Highway are all closed because of the proximity to the Waldo Canyon Fire.

3:17 p.m. Next official update at 4 p.m. We'll bring it to you as soon as we get it. We're also working to update our fire map.

3:05 p.m. We're starting to get some Monday fire-related closures: Hope Montessori Chuckwagon: Centennial/Mountain Shadows will be closed  due to mandatory evacuation.

Silver Key Senior Services will close its office to clients Monday due to porr air quality. Transportation will run for Medical Appointments only.  Meals on Wheels will run as scheduled. Silver Key staffers are asked to report as usual.

2:46 p.m. Our photographer Christian Murdock is reporting growing flame activity.

Updated photo galleries HERE and HERE

2:30 p.m. Firefighters are saying that winds are shifting on the fire.

2:17 p.m. Residents have reported seeing panicked animals fleeing the Waldo Canyon Fire into the city since Saturday. But Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say these animals probably lived in town before the fire.

"Most large animals are able to flee the fire to unburned areas outside of the fire perimeter, and we have not seen any specific examples of them going so far as to enter Colorado Springs or Woodland Park," said agency spokesman Michael Seraphin.

In the much larger High Park Fire in northern Colorado, a bear with a radio collar was tracked, and it was able to stay safe by constantly moving to unburned areas.

As for the herd of bighorn sheep, one of the largest in the state, which lives on the mining scar that appeared to be in the fire's path Sunday afternoon, Seraphin said that area is rocky and devoid of  vegetation, protecting them from the flames.

"There may be some impacts on them because of smoke, but we won't know for sure until we get up there to get a look at them. It's too soon to tell," he said.  

2:02 p.m. City and county confirm that disaster declarations have been signed.

"This is obviously something beyond the resources of any one agency. This declaration is the next step needed for an incident of this size," Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said in a statement. "I commend and thank everyone from all of the agencies helping and ask our citizens to please respect all closures and emergency messages being put out to allow everyone to do their jobs.”

1:54 p.m. This just in from Colorado Springs government: Upon request of CSPD, the City Parks Department is closing Palmer Park. Large gatherings of people in forested areas present high fire danger so this is being done as a precaution.

Reminder: Garden of the Gods Park, Red Rock Canyon Open Space, and Pikes Peak Highway also closed today.

We are asking people to stay home and watch local news to get updates instead of gathering in outdoor areas.

1:43 p.m. The Pikes Peak Red Cross just reported that the Woodland Park shelter will close. The new shelter is at Summit Middle School, 490 Meadowpark Drive, Divide. If you are east of the fire, the shelter remains at Cheyenne Mountain High School.

1:30 p.m. While the airborne Air Force is still gearing up for the fight, the ground pounding Air Force firefighters have joined the battle. Peterson Air Force Base reports that firefighters from the 21st and 721st Civil Engineer Squadrons are providing manning and fire truck support to Colorado Springs as local fire crews fight the Waldo Canyon fire.

Firefighting C-130s from Peterson's 302nd Airlift Wing will join the fight as soon as possible, the Forest Service said. The planes will be in the air no later than Tuesday and will be based out of Peterson.

1:20 p.m. The King Soopers store at Fillmore and Centennial was packed this afternoon.

Within the shadow of the the massive Waldo Park fire smoke plume, shoppers loaded up on the basics: cartlaods of bottled water, toilet paper and canned goods.

The store sits just east of an evacuation area.

While some packed their carts, others stood in a nearby parking lot and watched the black smoke rise to the west.

We're also hearing that there are lines to get gas at some locations to the west of the evacuation area.

1:17 p.m. With a second day of temperatures in the high 90s, a forecaster with the National Weather Service was asked if there is any relief in the forecast.

"No," said meteorologist Steve Hodanish Sunday afternoon.

"It’s going to be hot and dry," he said. The forecast high for Sunday was 99 degrees in Colorado Springs. Forecasters predict highs of 98 degrees Monday and Tuesday.

But there is a silver lining, if you can call it that. The strong winds firefighters feared have not materialized, and most winds so far Sunday have been created by the fire itself, blowing to the northeast, Hodanish said.

While there is no precipitation in the forecast, forecasters expect temperatures to drop into the low 90s Wednesday and Thursday.

It may take the arrival of monsoonal rains, which usually hit in the first week of July, to bring any of the moisture many residents are now praying for.

1:14 p.m. Sgt. Joe Roybal of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said they have had reports of flames approaching Highway 24 from the north in Cascade, but there are no reports of a structure on fire.

12:54 p.m. Those aerial firefighters from Peterson Air Force Base's 302nd Airlift Wing are joining the fight. This just in "PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- The U.S. Forest Service has requested and U.S. Northern Command has approved the deployment and employment of four Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) C-130 aircraft to assist in wildfire suppression in Colorado and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions."

12:51 p.m. "It's going too have a huge economic impact," said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark -- all the tourist spots shut down.

12:50 p.m. Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said he'll push for federal help. "My thoughts and prayers go out to the thousands of residents who have been affected as a result of the High Park Fire, the Weber Fire, the Waldo Canyon Fire and all the other fires burning throughout Colorado. These fires and the severe effects they have had on thousands of evacuees and firefighters illustrate that we are in the midst of a very severe fire season. The windy, hot and dry conditions that helped fuel these fires highlight the importance of having adequate resources to fight wildfires. It also underlines the need to support the evacuees as well as the firefighters and first responders fighting these blazes on the ground and from above.  I will continue to monitor the fires and the ongoing efforts at containment – and I will push for all necessary support at the federal level."

12:45 p.m. Reporter Ryan Maye Handy tweets that El Paso County commissioners are working on declaring a disaster so they can tap federal funds and resources for the fire.

12:18 p.m: Fire officials fear the fire might jump a ridge near Cedar Heights. Fire crews hoped the bare hillside nearby would slow progress. Lt. Dave Broch said the fire is flaring up behind Cedar Heights due to midday heat and dryness.

11:47 p.m.: The Teller County Sheriff's Office has issued a pre-evacuation notice to residents south of Woodland Park and West to Edlowe Road, including all residents along both sides of Edlowe Road.

11:04 a.m.: Two C-130 air tankers from Peterson Air Force Base will be in action Monday at the Waldo Canyon fire.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said the planes were ordered Saturday night from the Department of Defense around 7 p.m. By 9:30, the order was approved.

Hickenlooper said Sunday there are 70 helicopters and air tankers in the air in fighting fires in Colorado.

10:56 a.m. Perhaps to no one's surpriise, the Incident Information System reports that growth potential for the Waldo Canyon Fire is high for Sunday. "Fire activity is expected to increase as the day heats up and winds develop."

  10:45 a.m. Our partners at KOAA report that Hickenlooper has requested additional tankers; "He approved it last night and they'll be in the air tomorrow." Hickenlooper has been up to the fire, and got a good look at it.

10:41 a.m. From reporter Matt Stieiner: There are three community info lines, available 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.: 719-402-7935; 719-237-9947; 719-237-3417

10:35 a.m. Fire crews are are getting help from a fleet of planes and helicopters using the Air Force Academy as a base. "We'd like to put a shout out to the Air Force Academy," said fire spokesman Greg Heule.

There is one large helicopter, that can carry 400 gallons of water, and four more of the same type have been ordered, Heule said.

Also, two heavy air tankers are being assisted by a lead plane to choose the best places to drop retardant. Two single engine air tankers have been at the fire since Saturday and two more have been ordered.

Finally, two air attack planes have been serving as "controllers in the sky," Heule said. They make sure all the air operations are coordinated.

10:29 a.m. "Wow -- there's a big slurry drop way down low," says Barry Noreen, watching from The Gazette window. He said the drop appears to have been north of Cedar Heights. And there's another. "You can see red plumes come out of the plane."

10:28 a.m. From reporter Scott Rappold: Emergency radio traffic on the Williams Canyon area: "I don’t think we're going to stop or save anything." 

10:22 a.m. Eastbound U.S. 24 is now closed from mile marker 288, around Crystola.

10:16 a.m. About 3,000 homes have been evacuated in El Paso County, says Jeff Kramer, an El Paso Count Sheriff's spokesman. Deputies are patrolling the areas to protect property.

10:15 a.m. Sunday morning there was a Type 3 fire team in command of emergency crews. Greg Heule, a Waldo Canyon fire spokesman, said a Type 1 team will arrive today. The move to Type 1 will be made because of the complexity of the incident, Heule said, noting that the close proximity to the city requires the change. Type 1 teams are brought in in the most complex situations.

10:14 a.m. Reminder that the latest evacuations have been south of 24, in Manitou Springs, Cascade, Chipita Park and Green Mountain Falls.

9:44 a.m.: Westbound U.S. Highway 24 is closed at 31st Street.

Mayor Steve Bach addressed reporters just after 9 a.m. Sunday.

"It's a time to be vigilant, but a time to be calm," he said.

The mayor thanked Colorado Springs Utilities for using a bulldozer "all night" to help establish a defensible boundary on the western edge of the city.

He also thanked those who have been displaced.

"I want to thank all who have been evacuated," Bach said, "for responding in an orderly manner and staying safe."

Latest Waldo Canyon fire stats:

- 2,000 acres burned

- zero containment

- More than 400 firefighters (72 from Colorado Springs fire)

- More firefighters coming Sunday and Monday

9:38 a.m. There will be a community meeting for evacuees at 7 p.m. Monday at the Calvary Worship Center near 30th Street and King Street.

9:28 a.m. If you are trying to check on family members, call the new Red Cross number: 719-650-9132. 

9:24 a.m. John Schroyer reports from the press conference that 400 people are fighting the fire, with more to come. The focus is on protecting structures and preventing the fire from spreading, not putting it out. The fire is within 1/4 mile of some structures. The next media briefing won't be until 4 p.m.

9:21 a.m. The fire is at 2,000 acres, with no containment. But it's all well north of U.S. 24. Gov. Hickenlooper is expected to be down here later today.

8:27 a.m.:  El Paso County will give evacuees at Cheyenne Mountain High an informational update at 11 a.m.

Across town, at Calvary Worship Center in western Colorado Springs, assistant Pastor Isom Itson talked of the the church's outreach with the Waldo Canyon fire as the early morning service began.

Itson said the Worship Center, at 501 Castle Road just east of 30th Street, will hold a special prayer meeting at 6 p.m. Sunday night. He also said church organizers have been in contact with city officials and some possible aid efforts are in the works.

7:58 a.m.: Manitou Springs authorities were making final evacuation notifications on the east end of town.

Homes and motels along El Paso Boulevard were beginning to get word. A Manitou Springs police officer and a firefighter patrolling the area said everything as far east as the Buffalo Lodge near El Paso and Columbia Road were being asked to leave.

Colin McConnaughhay, 17, of Fountain, was sitting near the office at the lodge. He said he just arrived for a family reunion but was told his relatives "were on their way home."

"I was just a little late today," he said.

6:57 a.m.:  Fire officials have just called for mandatory evacuations for areas south of U.S. Highway 24, including Cascade, Green Mountain Falls and Chipita Park, about 1,500 residences.

5:48 a.m. Manitou authorities say the town is two-thirds evacuated.

5 a.m. -- Pikes Peak is veiled behind smoke as the first rays of the Sunday sun hit Colorado Springs. It's been a long night, which brought the evacuation of the town of Manitou Springs and its 5,000 residents. Firefighters are wary of the dawn, which will bring heat and wind Sunday. Temperatures are expected to hit the 90s, with low humidity.

The 2,500-acre Waldo canyon fire has been burning all night, giving an orange glow to teh city's west side as trees torched like fireworks.

So far, no one has lost a home and no one has been hurt.

About 7,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

The work overnight focused on saving houses, especially in the embattled Cedar Heights neighborhood behind Garden of the Gods.

Today, firefighters will use shovels, saws, hoses trucks and aircraft to battle the fire. Through the day saturday, the blaze exhibited the ability to move in all directions. By 5 a.m., the fire was moving north and south.

It started with a small blaze at noon Saturday. No cause has been given.

4:46 a.m. Readers are telling us Manitou Springs is exit-only. Only traffic is headed out as evacuation hits high gear.

4:30 a.m.
From reporter Jakob Rodgers: Most of these people are from Manitou. The rush began around 2 a.m., said Teresa Vieira, the shelter manager.

4:25 a.m. About 125 in Red Cross shelter at Cheyenne Mountain High School.

4:03 a.m. Highway 24 is still open through Manitou Springs, "As of this moment" a Colorado State patrol dispatcher said.

3:53 a.m. -- Fire official: No homes have been lost in Cedar Heights, the neighborhood closest to the flames and the scene of a major battle tonight.

3:40 a.m.
-- The Manitou Springs evacuation was ordered by Manitou Fire Chief Keith Buckmiller, in consultation with crews working the fire, said Rev. David Hunting, the fire department's chaplain and public information officer.

It was unknown how long residents would be out of their homes, Hunting said. Officials will evaluate conditions Sunday and determine how long the order would remain in place, he said.

No structures were being threatened as of about 3:15 a.m., Hunting said, but the decision to evacuate was made as a precaution, as officials looked to Sunday and the likelihood that conditions would continue to be ripe for more fire danger.

"The fire behavior was at a point where it was threatening on putting embers and ash on Manitou Springs," he said. "You might be able to see the fire from one vantage point, but we always look ahead to where it's going. At the time we made the call, the fire was headed towards Manitou Springs. So to minimize any kind of injuries or loss of life, we made the call because of that. We just want to stay ahead of the fire and stay ahead of any kind of emergency needs that the residents may have.

"We're looking around 10, 11 o'clock in the morning. The temperatures are going to start going up, the humidity is going to start going down. That's when fires can change their behavior dramatically."

Manitou has a lot of vegetation and many homes right in the trees, which are very dry, Hunting said.

"We just didn’t want to take a chance of having a fire land on somebody's roof and set a residence on fire. That's why we made the call in the interest of protecting most importantly life, but also property. We realize this is a hard thing for folks to go through, it's not a good thing to be called up and say, 'you need to evacuate your town.' But the citizens have been overwhelmingly supportive of doing the right thing and being safe."

Manitou was broken into six sections, and half of the city had been evacuated as of roughly 3 a.m., Hunting said.

"People are being very compliant," Hunting said.

In the early morning hours, many vehicles were seen heading out of town, east on Manitou Avenue. However, some people were standing on the street corners of downtown Manitou.

"We're pretty confident by sunrise we'll have people out of here," Hunting said, when asked about residents who were still in town.

Residents were being directed to the area's evacuation center at Cheyenne Mountain High School.

"We've had people knocking on people's doors individually, assuring them of their safety, and people are being very cooperative," Hunting said.

When asked if any residents were resisting the evacuation, Hunting reiterated that, as far he knew, "people are being very cooperative, and we thank the public for doing that. They're making our job a lot easier by being cooperative."

3:17 a.m
. With 5,000 leaving Manitou Springs this morning, mandatory evacuations cover more than 7,000 people in Pikes Peak region.

3:10 a.m. Reporter on the phone with Manitou Fire Department. Chief ordered townwide evacuation.

2:46 a.m. People are being evacuated from Manitou's Cliff House.

2:18 a.m. TV is asking where the Air Force is tonight. The answer is they're on the ground, fighting the fire -- Air Force Academy and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station units are on the lines under mutual aid agreements. Colorado Springs is home to the firefighting 302nd Airlift Wing. They'll need Pentagon orders they can join the fight.

1:56 a.m Sheriff Maketa on Manitou evacuations: "They would rather begin the evacuation now and give people time." Maketa says firefighters fear the Waldo Canyon fire will make a fast run in the morning, prompting the night time evacuations. 

Maketa says the fire is not calming down well tonight. "It was 72 degrees at midnight." Maketa said drought and heat created "a real tinder box" at the scene. "Evergreen trees were just bursting into fireballs," he said. 

Maketa said the fire is making downhill push from Cedar Heights toward Manitou Springs. Maketa said this fire "has a southern edge that seem to be traveling east but it can quickly come south down a valley."

Sheriff Maketa said the fire is sending up embers that can travel a "tremendous distance" from fire lines and start spot blazes.

He says the fire is primarily traveling north but has southern spur that is active tonight.

Maketa: Manitou authorities plan gradual Waldo County fire evacuation before morning. Will work to contact residents when its time to go. Maketa said Manitou evacuation called now so order will be maintained, rather than a hasty retreat from the fire.

1:45 a.m. Reporter in Manitou Springs says fire appears to be calming down.

1:23 a.m. Clarification from Sheriff: All of Manitou Springs under evacuation, north and south of Manitou Avenue, starting with north.

1:20 a.m. Colorado Springs Fire Capt. Mike Wittry said the Waldo Canyon Fire is acting very unusually tonight. "It's been bumping Cedar Heights," he said. "That fire has been making crown runs all night."

Shifting winds are now pushing fire down canyons, Wittry said. Three main groups of firefighters now on the line: One at cedar heights, one at Glen Erie and one at Mountain Shadows. All the firefighters are working to protect homes.

1:14 a.m. Colorado State Patrol says Highway 24 remains open at this time.

1:12 a.m. Mandatory evacuation for Crystal Park in Manitou.

1:06 a.m. From El Paso County Sheriff's Office: Evacuations beginning for all of Manitou Springs, including Crystal Park. Evacuations will start north of Manitou Avenue.

1 a.m.
Reverse 9-1-1 calls ordered for everything north of Manitou Avenue from Garden Drive through Manitou Springs.

12:56 a.m. Manitou calling for firefighters to come to fire hall to "start knocking on doors."

12:55 a.m. Fire making big run in Cedar heights firefighter on radio described it hitting a 'jackpot' of fuel.

12:49 a.m. Evacuation is everything north of Manitou Avenue from Garden Drive through Manitou Springs.

12:43 a.m. 'Big orange glow' as evacuations expand in Manitou Springs. Police dispatchers say evacuations of homes north of Manitou Avenue beginning.

12:36 a.m. Fire is making another run that can be seen from downtown as trees torch. Flames evident on north and south edge of fire.

12:20 a.m. Firefighters in serious battle in Cedar Heights. From radio traffic it sounds like some firefighters are being forced to retreat. Focus is on structure protection as embers near homes. We're hearing up to four small spot fires in Cedar Heights -- a neighborhood that was evacuated shortly after the fire began.

12:17 a.m. We're still hearing the fire is on the move. Evacs: From El Paso County Sheriff's Office: Manitou conducted mandatory evacuations north of Hwy 24 on Alpine Trail, Canon Trail, Geneva Trail, Lucerne Trail and Glen Road.

11:54 p.m. From radio traffic: Two spot fires reported in Cedar Heights.

11:46 p.m. From radio traffic: Firefighters from Air Force Academy and NORAD have joined the fight on the fire's south side.

11:43 p.m. We're hearing that the fire is making another run on Cedar Heights neighborhood, west of Garden of the Gods.

11:41 p.m. The neighborhood under evacuation is north of Highway 24 between the Cliff Dwellings and Cave of the Winds.

11:36 p.m. Homes being evacuated are noth of U.S. 24 in Manitou Springs. Streets confirmed Alpine Trail, Geneva and Lucerne.

11:32 p.m. Manitou Springs police are now evacuating homes on three streets: Alpine Trail, Geneva and Lucerne. Firefighters rushing to block Waldo Canyon's advance.

11:21 p.m. Evacuations in Manitou Springs as fire makes late-night run, dispatchers say. Details to come and reporter on his way.

---

ORIGINAL STORY: Firefighters battling the 2,500-acre Waldo Canyon fire that erupted west of Colorado Springs on Saturday are preparing for the worst Sunday, a perfect storm of hot weather, rugged terrain and aggressive flames.

“Tomorrow could be very explosive,” said Mike Smith, the fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. He spoke Saturday after the fire had grown over 1,000 acres and appeared headed in all directions.

Another forest service spokesman, Greg Heule, said he expected the dry winds and scorching temperatures would keep the Waldo Canyon blaze burning throughout the night.

Heule wouldn’t predict flare-ups on Sunday, but suspected that hot, dry conditions would make Sunday another challenging day for firefighting.

As the sun set on the billowing smoke Saturday evening, trees continued to torch, bursting into flames that could be seen across Colorado Springs.

“We saw what the fire behavior was like. We see what it’s like now — we have trees that are torching off,” Heule said just before 9 p.m. Saturday.

“What that indicates to me is that conditions are ripe for aggressive fire behavior. I’m not Mother Nature. I don’t make predictions,” he added.

Erratic winds, steep terrain, tinder-dry trees, and near-record high temperatures have made fighting the Waldo Canyon fire a challenge for the 350 firefighters from across the Pikes Peak region and beyond battling the blaze after it started just after noon, sending up a column of black smoke.

The 2,500-acre fire burned with multiple heads as it moved across the hillsides, stretching to the north and northwest, and as well as making an unusual run to the southwest — downhill and against the prevailing winds.

Two single engine air tankers, two heavy air tankers, and one helicopter flew over the blaze Saturday, under the watchful eye of one air attack plane, an airborne command center, Heule said.

More than 1,000 homes and as many as 2,300 people were evacuated from Colorado Springs and portions of El Paso County, said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. An unknown number of people were also evacuated from the Ute Pass area, near Cascade, said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.

All recreational areas on the hills west of Colorado Springs were shut down Saturday afternoon, including the Garden of the Gods Park, the Pikes Peak Highway, Waldo Canyon trail, and the Cog Railway, said Sunny Smaldino, spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

Sections of Rampart Range Road, which initially were the only point of access for firefighters trying to reach the fire burned, Maketa said.

A Type 1 incident command team, the highest classification for fire disasters, was requested by local fire officials and was expected to arrive Sunday morning and take charge Monday, Maketa said.

As the fire burned through dense trees and fallen logs — what firefighters call heavy fuels — it sent up thick columns of jet-black smoke Saturday. There are more of these fuels to burn in the hills, Smith said, and Sunday’s possibility for more near-record highs, between 95 and 100 degrees, could add to the conflagration.

Within minutes after the fire was spotted, the white smoke it spewed turned black, bursting into a tall column that could be seen from across the region.

Firefighters were quickly amassed from Colorado Springs, Green Mountain Falls, and Woodland Park. Two Forest Service Hotshot crews came down from Lake George, where they were fighting the 1,145-acre Springer fire. An incident command post was set up at a Safeway parking lot on West Colorado Avenue, where the city officials and some residents gathered to glean the latest news.

Mandatory evacuations were issued for the 200 homes Cedar Heights neighborhood, an exclusive gated community west of the Garden of the Gods. Colorado Springs police were sent to make door-to-door calls to drive those residents in the evacuation zones out of their homes.

The evacuation alerts confused several residents on the west side Saturday afternoon.
Some voluntary evacuations for the northern section of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood were issued and then rescinded. One Manitou Springs woman, who asked not to be named, said she received a reverse 911 call and knock on her door telling her to leave Saturday, although her neighborhood was not evacuated.

Despite its fury, the Waldo Canyon fire hadn’t damaged structures Saturday.
By 9 p.m. Saturday, a command team, consisting of Forest Service officials, the Colorado Springs Fire Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, had not decided whether firefighters would fight the Waldo Canyon fire until dawn.

Firefighters are also worried about more blazes igniting in the dry hills and plains.
The fire department and sheriff’s office called in off-duty firefighters and deputies to bolster forces in the city and county.

Thirty-two deputies were called in to monitor evacuation zones, and 12 off-duty firefighters were brought in to staff three engines in the city.

The fire department also called on fire crews from the Cheyenne Mountain, Cimarron, and Stratmoor Hills fire department to help bolster Colorado Springs fire stations emptied when firefighters deployed to Waldo Canyon.

As for what the Waldo Canyon fire will cost the city of Colorado Springs, already under budget constraints, fire Chief Rich Brown said it is too early to tell.

“There are some human costs right now, but they are nothing outrageous by any stretch,” Brown said Saturday night.

Brown asked that Colorado Springs residents be patient, and heed evacuation alerts.

“I know people get very, very upset about mandatory evacuations,” he said.

“But you know what, this summer is a lot like the summer when we had the Hayman fire (2002), so we cannot take anything for granted.”

Reporters Rich Laden, Jakob Rodgers, Mary Shinn, Nathan Vail, Bill Vogrin and R. Scott Rappold contributed to this report


EARLIER UPDATES

8:54 p.m. -- "It's very serious, but I feel very good where we are at this point," Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

8:50 p.m. -- Maketa predicts no change in air support for fire on Sunday.

8:45 p.m. -- Maketa: Avoid Highway 24 if you can. The Highway remains open.

8:35 p.m. -- Sheriff Terry Maketa: 2000-2300 residents have been displaced.

8:13 p.m. -- Officials: Structure protection is going to be the number one thing tomorrow.

8:10 p.m. -- No structures directly threatened by Waldo Canyon Fire. No people hurt.

8:08 p.m. -- 350 firefighters now battling flames.

8:04 p.m. -- 1,240 people from 1,000 homes have been evacuated in the city. Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak and Cog all closed.

8:03 p.m. -- Mandatory evacuations in Colorado Springs valid until 8 pm Sunday.

7:51 p.m. -- Three barns were filled with evacuated large animals at Norris Penrose Events Center, including draft horses from Rockledge Ranch at Garden of the Gods.

7:40 p.m. From the City of Colorado Springs: Red Cross Shelter open at Cheyenne Mountain High School (1200 Cresta Road).  Penrose Equestrian Center open to shelter large animals (1045 W Rio Grande St.) Garden of the Gods Park and Visitor Center are Closed. Fire information for evacuees available at Cheyenne Mountain High School, 1200 Cresta Road. 

7:29 p.m. -- Congressman Doug Lamborn has visited fire officials and said he's ready to wrangle federal help. From a press release: "He met with city, county, and federal officials to assess the situation. The Congressman stands ready to assist if federal resources are required."

7:19 p.m. --
Next major update from officials due at 8 p.m. We'll be there and update you.

7:17 p.m. From Bill Vogrin: Residents of Woodmen Valley report numerous deer and other wildlife running in a panic through the forest.

7:06 p.m. -- From the Air Force Academy: The Waldo Canyon Fire poses no immediate threat to the Air Force Academy. Base officials advise personnel to monitor local news for updates.

7:04 p.m. -- From State Farm Insurance: Evacuated residents impacted by the Waldo Canyon Fire and insured with State Farm are encouraged to contact their agent right away—even if they don’t know yet whether their property is affected by the wildfire.

No claims have been reported at this time.

“People buy insurance for times like this and that’s why we exist, to be there for our customers in their time of need,” said State Farm spokeswoman Angela Thorpe. “Right now it’s important for those affected by the wildfire to safely follow evacuation procedures and to let us know how to contact them. We also encourage our policyholders to save their receipts for any temporary living expenses they incur.”

6:44 p.m. -- Red Cross says 24 people have signed into the shelter at Cheyenne Mountain High School. To help fire victims, donate at redcross.org. The Red Cross thaks cash, not stuff.

6:31 p.m. -- From the city of Colorado Springs: Approximately 1050 homes have been evacuated and 200 people from Glen Eyrie Conference Center were evacuated to the Woodmen Valley Chapel.

6:30 p.m. -- Colorado Springs police Detective Derek Graham was among those going door-to-door for the evacuations. Talking to a 98-year-old World war II veteran who survived the sinking fo his ship in Pearl Harbor, Graham repreatedly asked the man to leave. "It's going to move pretty fast. You should probably get moving," Graham told him.

Several minutes later, after more polcie talked to the man, he drove away with his family and caretaker.

"It's like robbing your own House,' said Andrew Krueger, the caretaker for the 98-year-old evacuee.

6:25 p.m. -- No reports of burned structures or injuries so far.

6:20 p.m. -- At Garden of the Gods Business Park, Colorado Springs police officials said 850 homes were in the evacuation zone and 200 were in the one of Cedar Heights. Officers have gone to about half to the 850 homes and have used an reverse 9-1-1 system and loudspeakers on their cars to tell people of mandatory evacuations.

6:12 p.m.
-- Officials have not said anything about the cause of the fire yet. The fire has several heads burning in several directions and is hard to fight.

5:50 p.m. -- "The fire's still in the county, but we need to be very vigilant here in the Springs," Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said.

5:48 p.m. -- Northern part of Mountain Shadows -- all evacuations lifted.

5:40 pm. -- 300 firefighters on scene from multiple jurisdictions, El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said.

5:30 p.m. -- 1,000 acres burned.

5:21 p.m. -- The Waldo Canyon fire has burned 200 acres but is growing and changing direction so rapidly that it’s difficult to estimate the fire’s size, said Mike Smith, a U.S. Forest Service fire information.

The fire is moving in a northeasterly direction and has not jumped Williams Canyon, he said.

The fire is a “multihead” fire, meaning there are several spots of intensity, he said. One such spot is burning back toward the southwest.

More than 100 firefighters are working on the blaze, including two hot shot crews who moved from the Springer fire near Lake George and Forest Service air tankers that are dropping retardant.

“Retardant itself doesn’t stop the fire, it just slows it down,” Smith said.

The U.S. Forest Service is calling this a Type 1 incident, the highest level of incident command, signaling the fire’s complexity, he said.

A briefing is expected at 5:30 p.m.

5:19 p.m. -- Officials: Fire is moving fast and changing direction, so a more accurate size estimate is not available.

5:09 p.m. --  The next official update is set for 5:30 p.m. we have two reporters there.


5:07 p.m.
Welcome to the twitter age: To the moment, we're tracking #pyramidfire #waldofire #pyramidmtnfire and #waldocanyonfire.

4:50 p.m.: Latest Evacuations list

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS:

-- all residents west of 30th Street from Gateway, near Garden of the Gods park, north to Chuckwagon in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

-- Cedar Heights, a gated community west of the Garden of the Gods.

-- Cascade area on the north side of Hwy 24 from County Line east to Waldo Canyon

VOLUNTARY EVACUATIONS:

 -- Mountain Shadows area - west of 30th, north of Chuckwagon
 -- Allegheny east to I-25 north to Air Force Academy, including the neighborhoods of Peregrine, Oakhills, Discovery, Raven Hills, unincorporated Woodmen Valley, Pine Creek estates and  Thunderbird estates.
 -- Areas of Green Mountain Falls.


4:45: The Air Force Academy airfield is being used as a staging area for helicopters, in support of firefighting operations. 

AFA has not been asked to send firefighters or vehicles at this time.

4:37 p.m. Most west side evacuation orders remain voluntary.

4:21 p.m.: The Waldo Canyon fire is at 0 percent containment, fire officials said at a press briefing now underway. (The fire was formerly known as the Pyramid Mountain fire.)

No structure damage has been reported. Firefighters are working on structure protection.

"But it's uncomfortably close," said Sunny Smaldino, a fire department spokeswoman.

Many off-duty firefighters have been called in to protect the rest of the city. She called the fire's behavior is "erratic."

CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF EVACUATIONS.

3:48p.m.: After a briefing by fire officials on the Pyramid Fire, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach urged residents to stay alert and calm.

"All westside residents need to be ready for evacuation," Bach said. "Be prepared, this is serious."

He said it was important to remain alert and watch news reports for movement in the blaze. And Bach wants residents to remain calm.

"Let's everybody remain calm," Bach said. "But everyone west of I-25 should be on alert right now."

Fire Chief Rich Brown said the plume of smoke, with its northward tilt, was a good sight.

He said the 23 mph winds reported at the Colorado Springs Airport were moving the fire northwest, or the best possible direction for firefighters away from the city.

The federal government has declared the Pyramid Mountain fire a federal emergency, Bach said.

3:36 p.m: Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach is at the Pyramid Mountain fire command center. The next briefing will be at 4:15 p.m, fire officials said.

3:23 p.m. The military bases in the Colorado Springs region are on alert and the U.S. Forest Service is taking a lead role in the Pyramid Mountain fire, said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.

Clark said those under evacuation should take enough clothes and medications to last several days in the event the fire switches directions and moves into the city.

Colorado Springs Fire Department spokeswoman Sunny Smaldino said officials don't expect this blaze to be a quick fight.

"I anticipate it to not be over tonight," Smaldino said.

She said two air tankers fighting the High Park Fire near Fort Collins were being diverted to join the Pryamid Mountain blaze. But she added a cautionary note.

“Planes don’t put out fire," Smaldino said. "Boots on the ground do.”

Springs Mayor Steve Bach is at the command center getting a briefing.

Smaldino said 70 Springs firefighters on 10 vehicles are at the blaze along with three Colorado SPrings Utilities trucks and numerous others from Cascade, Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls, the El Paso County wildland fire team.

3:19 p.m.: The Colorado Springs Fire Department has called for mandatory evacuations for all residents north of 30th Street from Gateway north to Chuckwagon in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

3:05 p.m.: Planes and helicopters dropped water and retardant on the Pryamid Mountain as officials ordered mandatory evacuation of Cedar Heights, a gated community west of the Garden of the Gods.

And Colorado Springs Fire Department spokeswoman Sunny Smaldino announced a voluntary evacuation for residents of Mountain Shadows basically from the Garden of the Gods north to Chuckwagon Road, which includes the Flying W Ranch.

The fire now is estimated at 600 acres by fire officials.

2:57 p.m.: Officials estimate the Pyramid Mountain fire at 600 acres. A briefing is planned for 3 p.m.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department is calling for voluntary evacuations for everyone west of 30th Street from Gateway north to Chuckwagon.

Red Cross shelters are set up at Cheyenne Mountain and Woodland Park high schools, according to a tweet from U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.

2:45 p.m. -- Reporter Ryan Maye Handy spotted a plane dropping a load or retardant ahead to the Pyramid Mountain Fire

2:40 p.m. -- Flames from the wildfire bore down on houses at the top of Cedar Heights, an exclusive gated subdivision at the far western edge of Colorado Springs as officials evacuated the Garden of the Gods Park and urged voluntary evacuations of Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls and Cascade up Ute Pass.

A plume of billowing black-and-white smoke climbed thousands of feet high and could be seen for miles, prompting nervous city residents to report fires that were simply smoke from the 150-acre blaze.

The flames were centered in Waldo Canyon, a popular hiking destination on the north side of U.S. Highway 24 just west of Manitou Springs in Ute Pass.

The Red Cross has set up emergency shelters in Cheyenne Mountain High School and also at Woodland Park High School.

Fire officials are staging their firefighting operations from the Red Rock Shopping Center at 32nd and West Colorado Avenue in Colorado Springs.

Firefighters were converging from across the region. About 400 were fighting the Springer Fire all week near Lake George.

Winds were tricky in the fire zone. The plume seemed to be carrying north as winds of 15 mph were swirling.

2:35 p.m. -- EPSO reports: he Norris Penrose Equestrian Center is now available for large animals within evac area to be taken, access of 8th st

2:28 p.m. -- Pikes Peak Red Cross opening shelter at Cheyenne Mountain High School.

2:27 p.m. -- Reporter Scott Rappold sayd residents of Pyramid Mountain Estates in cascade are packing as the fire moves their way.

2:25 p.m. -- Highway 24 remains open, Sheriff's Office says.

2:23 p.m. -- Fire growing quickly in all directions. Authorities working to estimate size. Fire had passed 150 acres.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Authorities were evacuating the Cedar Heights neighborhood west of Colorado Springs as a fire sent a huge plume of smoke high into the sky west of Garden of the Gods Saturday.

The fire exploded across the ridges west of the city, prompting officials to close tourists attractions and roads. Eleven fire trucks were in place to defend the homes in Cedar Heights, an upscale gated community.

The unpredictable winds have firefighters guessing where the fast-growing blaze will go next.

"Really, it's kind of a perfect storm," said fire spokeswoman Sunny Smaldino.

Ropads and trails through the west side were closed along with picnic areas and campgrounds. The Pikes Peak Highway and Cog Railway were closed. Garden of the Gods is closed.

The wildland blaze, in Waldo Canyon, began just after noon. Residents on the west side reported seeing flames from the blaze. Fire officials reported that 911 lines were jammed as scores of callers reported the blaze.

"The wildfire is being addressed and reported," fire officials said on Twitter. "Ask people not to call 911 to report this fire."

The blaze was along a ridge. Authorities have called for evacuating hikers from the canyon. Rampart Range Road was being closed by authorities.

"All hikers and traffic to get out of the Waldo Canyon area and away from access points," Colorado Springs firefighters said on Twitter. "Do not drive to area."

Fire officials said the fire was west of the Cedar Heights neighborhood. Cedar Heights was being evacuated at 1 p.m.

Gazette reporter Nathan Vail reported that traffic was tangled on the smoke-filled roads of the neighborhood.

Highway 24 was bumper-to-bumper through the west side.

Firefighters from around El Paso and Teller Counties were rushing to the scene.

Sheriff's Office Lt. Jeff Kramer said firefighters had been sent to the area Friday night on a smoke investigation. It's unclear what firefighters found.

Fire crews were staging in Old Colorado City. Firefighters have been ordered to protect houses in Cedar Heights.

Westsiders stood on their sidewalks and in the streets around 12:15 p.m. Saturday taking pictures of the plume of smoke as it thickened in the sky.

"We are sad about the destruction," said Ken Schroeder, a Rockrimmon resident.

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