Colorado wildfire destroys hundreds of homes

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About 120 soldiers from nearby Fort Carson built firebreaks around parts of the academy, aided by equipment including 10 heavy bulldozers, four excavators, 13 military transportation and support vehicles, and one commercial road grader, Army officials said.

The full scope of the fire remained unknown. So intense were the flames and so thick the smoke that rescue workers weren't able to tell residents which structures were destroyed and which ones were still standing.

Indeed, authorities were too busy Wednesday struggling to save homes in near-zero visibility to count how many had been destroyed in what is the latest test for a drought-parched and tinder-dry state. At one point, a team assessing the damage had to leave charred neighborhoods because of smoke and fire danger.

FBI officials are present and have said they were investigating the cause of the blaze.

In addition to the some 30,000 evacuees, about 3,000 more people were evacuated to the west of the fire, Teller County authorities said Wednesday, and Teller County courts were closed through Thursday.

The Red Cross was accommodating victims at its shelters, with space enough for perhaps 2,500 people. Most evacuees were staying with family and friends.

Crews also were battling a deadly and destructive wildfire in northern Colorado and another that flared Tuesday night near Boulder.

Colorado wasn't the only state affected by fire, as several burned throughout the parched West.

Among the fires elsewhere in the West:

— A 72-square-mile wildfire in central Utah has destroyed at least 56 structures, mainly homes, and continues to burn with little containment, authorities said Wednesday. Officials expected the damage estimate to rise considerably as they continue their assessment of the fire-ravaged area between Fountain Green and Fairview and north across the Utah County line. Officials returned to an evacuated area and found a woman dead Tuesday.

— The smaller New Harmony Fire near St. George started Wednesday afternoon and had grown to 2,000 acres by midnight, forcing an undetermined number of residents near New Harmony and Bumblebee to evacuate. The fire was burning about three miles north of Zion National Park, prompting park officials to close a canyon area popular with hikers known as the Kolob section.

— Wildfires that have torched more than 200 square miles and burned dozens of homes in southeastern Montana spread farther Wednesday, with additional evacuations ordered after a blaze south of Roundup jumped a perimeter line built by firefighters. The growing Dahl fire, which has burned more than 60 homes by one estimate, forced an unknown number of residents to leave their homes near its southern flank, on top of an estimated 600 people evacuated the day before.

— A wildfire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest has grown from about 2,000 acres to 12,000 acres, or nearly 19 square miles, officials said Wednesday.

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Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, N.M., and Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyo., contributed to this report.

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