The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 27, 2012

Southwest Missouri natives feel fury of Colorado wildfires

When Hailey Unruh got the evacuation order on her cellphone Tuesday night, she had already left her house in western Colorado Springs, Colo.

“It’s kind of a rapid analysis of what’s important to you,” said Unruh, who gathered up a few clothes and necessities and headed with her husband, Chase, and their two dogs to a friend’s house to escape the wildfire encroaching on their neighborhood.

The Unruhs, who are Carthage natives, are among more than 32,000 residents who have been forced to evacuate their homes after a large wildfire near Colorado Springs doubled in size overnight Tuesday to about 24 square miles, threatening the city of about 419,000 people.

Flames also crested a ridge above the U.S. Air Force Academy campus this week, and the school told more than 2,100 residents to evacuate. No injuries or damage to academy structures had been reported by Wednesday evening.

Unruh on Tuesday had watched the wildfire barrel toward Colorado Springs from her office at the Citizens Service Center, which faces the mountains.

“We could actually see it crest over the ridge,” she said in a phone interview. “You could see it over the course of yesterday afternoon just racing down toward neighborhoods. It was just kind of a very surreal feeling.”

Unruh and her husband are staying with friends just a few miles from their home. Because residents are dissuaded from entering the evacuated areas, she did not know the status of her house on Wednesday evening. She said that when the all-clear is given, she hopes her house is still there and the couple can move back.

“But if we don’t, we really do have the most important things with us,” she said.

Steve Cox, an aide to Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, said Wednesday morning that the blaze had consumed dozens of houses, but a precise figure wasn’t available because of the intensity of the fire.

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