By THOMAS PEIPERT
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) â¿¿ A wildfire fueled by hot temperatures, gusty winds and thick, bone-dry forests has destroyed 92 homes, damaged five more and prompted more than 7,000 residents northeast of Colorado Springs to flee, sheriff's officials said Wednesday.
A separate Colorado wildfire to the south has destroyed 20 structures, including some in Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, and prompted evacuations of about 250 residents and nearly 1,000 inmates at a medium-security prison. To the north, another fire burned in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Wildfires also were burning in New Mexico, Oregon and California, where a smokejumper was killed fighting one of dozens of lightning-sparked fires.Crews were so busy battling blazes across the West that the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday it was mobilizing a pair of Defense Department cargo planes to help â¿¿ a step taken only when all of the Forest Service's contracted tankers already are in use. The fire near Colorado Springs, one of several that broke out Tuesday along Colorado's Front Range, has prompted evacuation orders and pre-evacuation notices to between 9,000 and 9,500 people and about 3,500 homes and businesses, sheriff's officials said. Some Colorado Springs residents were warned to be ready to evacuate, mostly because of a fear of flying embers spreading the fire into the state's second-largest city. Sheriff's officials also evacuated part of neighboring Elbert County, including two camps with a total of about 1,250 children and adults. Bits of ash and the smell of smoke drifted into Denver, about 60 miles to the north, where the haze blocked the sun. No injuries or deaths have been reported, but El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said officials were trying to confirm the whereabouts of one person reported missing Wednesday. Firefighters tried to go where the person was last seen but were turned back twice because it was too hot, he said.