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Colorado wildfires keep Pikes Peak railway closed (+videos)

Colorado wildfires are hurting the state's tourism industry. The Pikes Peak cog railway has been shut down for three days. More than 4,800 people have been evacuated from homes near Colorado Springs. 

By Keith CoffmanReuters / June 26, 2012


Colorado Sprinds, Colo.

A wildfire roaring virtually unchecked near some of Colorado's most visited tourist sites kept some 4,800 people out of their homes on Tuesday on the outskirts of the state's second-most populous city, authorities said.

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The so-called Waldo Canyon fire sent a mushroom cloud of smoke nearly 20,000 feet (6,100 metres) into the air over Colorado Springs near the foot of Pikes Peak, whose breathtaking vistas from the summit helped inspire the song "America the Beautiful".

Closer to the blaze, which has been fanned by stiff, hot winds blowing into the Southern Rockies from the prairies to the east, trees were visibly twisting from the heat of the flames.

IN PICTURES: Wildfires sweep the west

Operators of a famous cog railway that carries tourists from around the world up the picturesque mountainside said the trains would remain shut down on Tuesday for a third straight day.

The highway that leads up to Pikes Peak has been closed since shortly after the fire erupted on Saturday, as has the popular Garden of the Gods, a city-owned park encompassing scenic geologic formations such as tall, rocky spires and oddly balanced boulders.

The closures around Pikes Peak, billed the world's second-most visited mountain after Japan's Mount Fuji, have drawn attention to the fire's negative impact on the tourism industry just at the start of the peak summer travel season.

After three days, the blaze has scorched an estimated 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares), and fire crews managed to carve containment lines around just 5 percent of its perimeter. The cause was under investigation.

No casualties or property losses were reported, but thousands of residents have been displaced by evacuations.

Raging through dry timber about 80 miles (130 km) south of Denver, the Waldo Canyon fire had initially forced 11,000 people from their homes over the weekend, though residents from the town of Manitou Springs were allowed back on Sunday night.

As of late Monday, an estimated 4,800 people were under evacuation orders on the western outskirts of Colorado Springs.
One of them, Meg Duster, 27, stood watching the blaze from a safe distance at a fire command center. "I'm trying to remain optimistic, but it's so hard," she said, her voice quivering.

FIRE NEAR AIR FORCE ACADEMY

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