COLORADO SPRINGS -- Hundreds of homes have been destroyed by a raging wildfire that has encroached on the state's second-largest city and threatened the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs officials said yesterday.

Mayor Steve Bach said a more accurate account will be available later in the day of the damage from a blaze that has burned out of control for much of the week and forced more than 30,000 evacuees to frantically pack up belongings and flee.

The cause of the blaze remains unknown and local authorities said conditions are too dangerous for any such investigation to begin. El Paso County sheriff's Lt. Jeff Kramer said U.S. Forest Service agents were waiting for firefighting commanders to tell them when it's safe to enter the burned area.

The wildfire was one of many burning across the parched West, blazes that have destroyed structures and prompted evacuations in Montana and Utah and forced the closing of a portion of Zion National Park.

Neighborhoods where explosions of bright orange flame Tuesday signaled that yet another house had been claimed were still dangerous, keeping authorities away from being able to assess the damage.

An AP aerial photo of one neighborhood showed hundreds of heavily damaged or destroyed homes.

Ed and Florine Gigandet took refuge in a hotel in Manitou Springs, which days earlier had been evacuated when the same fire passed through.

They fled their home as ash fell on their driveway from smoke overhead.

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