As temperatures soared and dry winds blew across the state Tuesday, Colorado weathered its most destructive day of fires so far this year, consuming dozens of homes and prompting evacuations in five counties.
No fatalities were immediately reported from the fires in northeast El Paso County, at the Royal Gorge, in Rocky Mountain National Park and in Huerfano County.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said some residents who were asked to leave the Black Forest area near Monument did not.
"It's gone from an evacuation to a search-and-rescue," he said of the Black Forest fire, northeast of Colorado Springs, which was first reported at about 1 p.m.
The blaze had destroyed or damaged at least 40 to 60 homes -- a number that was likely to grow -- and spread to 7,500 to 8,000 acres over a 24,000-acre evacuation area, Maketa said Tuesday night. About 2,530 homes and businesses in northeast El Paso County were evacuated.
Maketa said federal firefighting crews would take command Wednesday.
"That gives you an indication of how serious we're taking this," he said.
In the meantime, local authorities asked helicopters and fire crews from Fort Carson to join the fight.
Gov. John Hickenlooper arrived in Colorado Springs late Tuesday and addressed reporters.
"We recognize this is sort of like the first day of a new season," he said. "Lord knows we can't be more prepared than we are, and I'm sure there are things we could do more of and we could do better."
The Black Forest fire, like others in the state Tuesday, was fed by near-record temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity this week, the hottest stretch so far this year, the National Weather Service said.
"It's been very dry here," said Cindy Antil, who evacuated from her home in Abert Estates near the Black Forest fire. "We figured it was just a matter of time."
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has issued an air-quality advisory for the Colorado Springs region, especially the northern and eastern areas, until 9 a.m. Wednesday because of the dense smoke from the Black Forest fire. Very young people, older people and anyone with breathing problems were being urged to limit outdoor activity.
Near Cañon City, the 3,800-acre Royal Gorge fire threatened the famous suspension bridge there and forced the evacuation of about 1,400 visitors and 200 staff, as well as about 60 people from the Pueblo Community College Fremont Campus.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
At 10 p.m., the Department of Corrections began evacuating about 800 inmates from the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City to other local prisons, based on security levels and medical needs.
Department spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson said the prisoners were being moved as a precaution.
Lightning sparked the Big Meadows fire on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, officials said. The fire grew from 3 acres to as many as 400 acres Tuesday and continued to move northeast toward Nakai Peak, park officials said.
In Huerfano County, the Klikus fire prompted evacuations, burned an estimated 50 acres and threatened structures in the Middle Creek area west of Walsenburg near La Veta.
The 2-acre Bergen Rock fire in the Pike National Forest in Douglas County prompted authorities to ask residents to be ready to evacuate Tuesday afternoon.
On the Western Slope, the 950-acre Tabeguache Creek fire is burning in the Uncompahgre National Forest, in portions of the Tabeguache Special Management Area.
Although the fire is burning in a remote area, it is being managed to drive it away from private property, including three cabins.
In Aurora, 10 families were displaced Tuesday afternoon when wind whipped up a fire that was burning a fence that then damaged five two-unit buildings at 1731 S. Pagosa Road.
Red Cross evacuation centers were set up Tuesday evening at Palmer Ridge High in Monument and New Life Church in Colorado Springs for the Black