By Miguel Llanos msnbc.com
The tens of thousands of evacuees in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area woke up Thursday to images of gutted neighborhoods and word that hundreds of homes have been lost to the out-of-control wildfire.
“We now know hundreds of homes have been destroyed,” Mayor Steve Bach said a morning press conference.
Bach said an firmer count would be available later Thursday. Sources earlier told the Colorado Springs Gazette that as many as 300 homes were destroyed in a big firestorm Tuesday, and that more homes have burned since.
Along the fire lines, crews were still battling what the city fire chief had called a “monster.”
“Something blowing up at Blodgett and Woodmen,” reported one firefighter over an emergency communications scanner, according to the Gazette.
Blodgett Peak is near the U.S. Air Force Academy and crews have been battling flare-ups there for several days.
Crews are getting a break in the weather, with the area no longer under a “red flag warning,” which means extreme fire danger.
On Wednesday, mandatory evacuations were ordered for the town of Crystola and part of Woodland Park after more than 32,000 people had to flee on Tuesday. How many new evacuees left was not immediately available.
Fire crews had expected more weather trouble on Wednesday and by early afternoon scanner traffic confirmed the fire was still in full force.
The fire moved down a ridge toward Teller County, the Gazette reported, citing communications from an emergency services scanner. “It’s huge,” said the voice over the scanner. “I would estimate two-three miles in width.”
Both Crystola and Woodland Park, population 7,000, are in Teller County.
In another scanner exchange, a request was made for more fire crews at Blodgett Peak. “As of right now I cannot hold this hill,” a voice said from the fire.
By late Wednesday, winds picked up and stirred flames, forcing some crews to retreat, the Gazette reported. C-130 planes used to bomb the fire with retardant were grounded.Heavy smoke made for unhealthy air in and around the city. After jumping fire lines Tuesday, the towering blaze has now burned more than 26 square miles.
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown earlier Wednesday called the Waldo Canyon Fire a “monster event” that is “not even remotely close to being contained.” The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The National Weather Service issued a forecast saying winds would make for challenging conditions. On a scale of one to six on the Haines Index — which measures the potential for fire growth — the Waldo Canyon Fire is forecast to be a six by Friday evening.
Tuesday night, the community of Mountain Shadows, northwest of Colorado Springs, appeared to be enveloped in an orange glow.
People were “freaking out” as they fled Tuesday night, local resident Kathleen Tillman told the Denver Post. “You are driving through smoke. It is completely pitch black, and there is tons of ash dropping on the road.”
“This is a fire of epic proportions,” Brown said at a briefing Tuesday night.
“It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine,” Gov. John Hickenlooper added after flying over the fire. “It’s almost surreal. You look at that, and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”
Colorado is battling eight large fires, its worst fire season in history.
President Barack Obama will tour the Colorado Springs area on Friday to show his support, the White House said Wednesday.
The state’s largest blaze is the 136-square-mile High Park Fire, which has destroyed 257 homes and killed one woman. That fire was triggered by lightning on June 9 and is nearly contained.
Nationwide, 35 large, active wildfires were being fought. The bulk of them were in nine western states: Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California.
Although the fire season got off to an early start in the West, the number of fires and acreage burned nationwide is still below the 10-year average for this time of year.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.