Colorado wildfire forces evacuation of rural town, valley

Smoke billows into the sky near Beulah, Colo., during a wildfire that began in the early afternoon on Monday, Oct, 3, 2016 near the small mountain town west of Pueblo, Colo. Students were evacuated from the local school and many residents were unable to get to their homes and livestock after the main road into town was closed. (Chris McLean/The Pueblo Chieftain via AP)

BEULAH, Colo. (AP) — Hundreds of people in a rural community in southern Colorado have been forced from their homes by a wildfire that has spread quickly in strong winds.

All people living in the town of Beulah, about 25 miles southwest of Pueblo, and the surrounding valley, about 1,950 people, were under evacuation orders Tuesday, Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Gayle Perez said.

The 4.7 square-mile fire broke out Monday afternoon in warm, windy weather, prompting an initial wave of evacuations, including students at Beulah School. The Pueblo Chieftain ( ) reported that some of the children, who were bused to a middle school, had already learned that their homes had been lost.

Sheriff Kirk Taylor then ordered more evacuations that night while escape routes were still passable.

“This fire is on both sides of the valley and if either flank moves toward the valley, we may lose lives,” he said in a statement.

The fire has destroyed at least seven structures in the area, which has a mix of both permanent and vacation homes. It’s not clear how many of those buildings were homes, Perez said. No injuries have been reported and no cause has been announced.

A water-carrying helicopter was called from the Colorado Springs area Monday but was diverted to neighboring Fremont County because of high winds, which made it hard for firefighters to size up and attack the blaze.

The wildfire comes after a relatively quiet fire season in Colorado as the weather begins to turn colder. As the fire burned, snow fell in parts of western Colorado’s mountains, causing accidents along portions of Interstate 70. However, at lower elevations in the state’s eastern half, winds and prolonged dry weather were still making it easy for any spark to spread into a fire.

A car accident started a grass fire along a highway in Boulder County on Tuesday morning, but firefighters were able to stop it at about 2 acres.