COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — 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.
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 fires 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 causes of those fires weren'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.
In the Colorado Springs area, George Gonzales, 74, and his wife were spending the night in their motorhome in the parking lot of a Red Cross shelter set up for evacuees from the Black Forest Fire. He said the two had been eating lunch in town when his daughter got an alert on her phone about the fire and called them.
An officer let them go back home to retrieve their dogs, their motorhome and truck, and his heart medicine, George Gonzales said.
"Sure, we're worried, but we're hoping for the best," he said.