COLORADO SPRINGS -- Three major blazes burned uncontrolled throughout the Rocky Mountain state Wednesday, destroying hundreds of homes, prompting mass evacuations in Colorado Springs and threatening the city of Boulder 100 miles away.
Fire officials said it's the worst fire season in Colorado history.
For weeks, Colorado has been in a state of siege as the Mammoth High Park Fire raged unhindered in mountain wilderness, destroying 257 rural homesteads and cabins, while residents of cities and suburbs to the east prayed the flames would not reach them.
Wednesday, the Waldo Canyon Fire, named for a popular hiking area west of the state's second-largest city, continued to burn unchecked, prompting the evacuation of 32,000 people in the metropolitan area of 600,000, including the nation's Air Force Academy.
Several former Long Islanders were among those trying to get out of the way of the massive wildfire.
Long Island native Eric Posch, 21, was in his father's car on Monday driving back from the Colorado Springs airport after a 10-day visit with old friends in Merrick and Oceanside. Ash was falling from the sky, he said.
"I haven't experienced the community coming together like this since I saw 9/11," he said.
From a window in her guest room, Linda Caputo said she could see the outline of Pikes Peak wavering through a thick haze.
Caputo's daughter evacuated Colorado Springs Wednesday because the smoky air was exacerbating her grandson's asthma problems, Caputo said, the same day that she watched the flames jump Queens Canyon from her house.
"The sky turned red," she said. "It was like the sky was on fire. The sun was obscured. It was eerie, really, and then you saw the black smoke in front of all the red. That's when I got scared."
Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, said this year is the culmination of nearly a decade of record fire seasons.
"Definitely we're having a changing climate," he said, adding that less snowfall in Colorado last winter brought the fire season to the state more than a month early.
With Alison Barnwell