COLORADO SPRINGS — Wildfires moved in on some of Colorado’s most popular summer tourist destinations over the weekend, demolishing nearly two dozen homes near Rocky Mountain National Park and emptying hotels and campgrounds at the base of Pikes Peak.
A wildfire near Colorado Springs erupted and grew out of control to more than 3 square miles early Sunday, prompting the evacuations of more than 11,000 residents and an unknown number of tourists. And on Saturday, a blaze destroyed 21 structures near the mountain community of Estes Park, where many visitors stay while visiting the national park.
All of this came just a week before the Fourth of July, a key time for family vacations to national parks and other destinations. A statewide ban on open campfires and private fireworks has been in place for more than a week.
With Colorado midway through its worst wildfire season in a decade, summer travelers have seen some of their favorite sites closed to the public, obscured by smoke and haze.
Plumes of gray and white smoke poured from the mountains Sunday, at times obscuring Pikes Peak.
Families planning white-water rafting trips or visits to the stunning red-rock formations in Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs were instead spending their vacations passing out bottled water and setting up cots in evacuee centers.
Half the nation’s firefighting planes are now battling fires in Colorado, said Governor John Hickenlooper. One fire has scorched more than 118 square miles and destroyed at least 191 homes near Fort Collins.