Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes around Colorado Springs, Colo. as the Waldo Canyon Fire consumed more than 5,000 acres, the Denver Post reported. High winds and 100-plus-degree temperatures have worked against firefighters.
The El Paso County sheriff told reporters Tuesday night that 32,000 people were evacuated in the area.
The U.S. Air Force Academy installation commander also issued an evacuation order for residents on the complex, an Air Force statement said.
A curtain of flame and smoke teetered above the academy’s Falcon Stadium; billowing gray clouds formed a backdrop to its aluminum, glass and steel Cadet Chapel, an icon of the academy. Elsewhere, police officers directing traffic and fleeing residents covered their faces with T-shirts and bandanas to breathe through the smoke.
“It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the 9-square-mile fire late Tuesday. “It’s almost surreal. You look at that, and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”
North of Denver, 26 homes in a southern Boulder subdivision were ordered to evacuate Tuesday afternoon as firefighters work to contain a blaze that consumed 300 acres in four hours, 9news.com reported. Boulder, a college town of 100,000 residents, is about 30 miles from Denver.
Officials say the Flagstaff Fire, as it is being called, is moving quickly toward the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally funded research facility, 9news.com reported. Three aircraft and a massive C-130 air tanker have been dispatched to fight the fire, which has been described as an “extreme” blaze.
“We’re about one ridge over from the city of Boulder,” Boulder County sheriff’s spokesman Rick Brough said of the fire at a news briefing,according to the Denver Post.
Throughout the interior West, firefighters have toiled for days in searing, record-setting heat against fires fueled by prolonged drought.
Most, if not all, of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana were under red flag warnings Wednesday, meaning extreme fire danger. Parts of Nevada and Kansas were under a red flag warning, according to the National Weather Service.
Colorado has endured nearly a week of 100-plus degree days and low humidity, sapping moisture from timber and grass, creating a devastating formula for volatile wildfires across the state and punishing conditions for firefighters.
“When it’s that hot, it just dries the fuels even more. That can make the fuels explosive,” said Steve Segin, a fire spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
Tuesday was the fifth consecutive day with temperatures of 100 degrees or higher in Denver, tying a record set in 2005 and 1989. On Monday, Denver set a record with 105 degrees.
Other areas in the state have also been topping 100 degrees, including northern Colorado where the state’s second largest wildfire in history is burning.
Segin said such prolonged heat is “extremely taxing” physically on firefighters, who are working long days and carrying heavy gear.
The wildfires are also posing a threat to tourism.
Several large wildfires across the West have placed some tourist destinations from Montana to New Mexico in danger just at the height of midsummer family road-trip season, putting cherished Western landscapes at risk along with hordes of vacationers.
Related: Wildfires leave Colorado tourism high and dry
In Colorado, the $5 billion tourism industry is on edge as images of smoke-choked Pikes Peak and flaming vacation cabins near Rocky Mountain National Park threaten to scare away summer tourists. Flames from the wildfire burning near Colorado Springs could be seen from downtown early Tuesday, the Gazette reported.
Matt Volz / AP
The Corral Fire is seen from a golf course in Helena, Mont., on Monday.
Authorities announced that the High Park Fire had destroyed 248 homes, up from 191. That fire has killed one woman and scorched more than 130 square miles and was just 55 percent contained Monday. It’s the second largest wildfire in state history.
In central Utah, a wildfire in an area dotted with vacation cabins was burning an estimated 58 square miles and threatening about 300 homes. Firefighters had that blaze at 10 percent containment Monday. The Sanpete County Sheriff’s office said that as many as 30 structures may have been lost.
And in New Mexico, firefighters Monday were mopping up a small wildfire that threatened one of that state’s top tourist attractions, El Santuario de Chimayo, a 19th century church north of Santa Fe. The church draws some 300,000 visitors a year and appeared to be out of danger Monday.
With the nation’s privately owned fleet of heavy air tankers already in use or unavailable, U.S. Forest Chief Tom Tidwell said his agency had to call on C-130 military tankers to help. The order came as new fires started in Colorado, Utah, Alaska and Arkansas. In all, more than 1.3 million acres across the U.S. have been charred this year.
Tidwell said about half of the nation’s personnel who are usually assigned to large fires are working in Colorado right now.
“It’s just because it’s so dry,” Tidwell said. “Not unlike New Mexico — they saw very low snowpack, especially in that lower country. Hot, dry winds with dry fuels, you get the ignition, and this is what we see.”
Never thought I’d see this day: Reflecting on queen’s
historic meeting with ex-IRA commander
By Sohel Uddin, NBC News
Thirty-five years ago, Queen Elizabeth’s silver jubilee was greeted with graffiti declaring “Victory to the IRA, stuff the jubilee.”
Wednesday marked a highly significant turnaround as the queen, in her diamond jubilee year, met and shook hands with a onetime senior Irish Republican Army commander who once stood against everything she represented and even considered her a legitimate target.
As a British person and a journalist, I never thought I’d see this day.
This is because I grew up with Northern Ireland. What does this mean? It means watching with incredulity as the IRA targeted the British establishment, including a sitting a prime minister — almost succeeding in assassinating her.
The “troubles,” as they were diplomatically called, became part of everyday life. We watched clashes with soldiers on television. News of bombings was a constant drip-drip in the news. It was one of those things that as a boy and a young man, I thought would never end.
So the meeting with Martin McGuinness, the first between the queen and a senior member of the IRA or its political wing Sinn Fein, is a landmark in the peace process 14 years after the militant group ended its 30-year campaign against British rule.
Photos: Queen Elizabeth II begins her 20th trip to Northern Ireland
On Tuesday, she held a private meeting with relatives of the 11 people killed in a 1987 bombing in Enniskillen, an attack that sparked a wave of revulsion against the IRA and helped convince its leadership to engage in the peace process.
Belfast’s Lyric theater, the venue of the historic handshake, has probably never felt so much attention during a performance as it did during the get-together between the British monarchy and Sinn Fein.
Few will know what the queen was thinking. But surely it was a difficult event for her, and not just because of the more than 3,500 killed in the conflict, 1,800 of whom were innocent civilians,according to The Guardian.
Paul Faith / Pool via AFP – Getty Images
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Belfast on Wednesday.
It is doubtless especially poignant for her because her cousin, Lord Mountbatten, was killed in 1979 when the IRA blew up his boat in Southern Ireland. He was the man who many believe was responsible for the queen’s marriage to Prince Philip, and was a guiding influence to the heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles.
The countless threats her family has lived with must have contributed to a feeling of unease ahead of the meeting. But the queen’s real thoughts will probably never be known, nor will her reaction when she was advised to perform this duty.
‘It will be difficult’: Queen meets IRA victims before landmark handshake
And it wasn’t only the queen who was taking a chance — it came at a cost for McGuinness too. He was being branded a traitor, with a lot of republicans saying that he has sold out and betrayed the principles they stand for.
Republicans protested against Wednesday’s meeting, and McGuinness’ decision could hurt his political ambitions.
British reaction on a political level has by and large been supportive, despite the bitterness and painful memories of the past.
Norman Tebbit, a former Conservative Party Chairman and a survivor of a deadly bombing in the seaside city of Brighton that targeted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, saw it as a victory over the IRA.
Before Wednesday’s event, Tebbit wrote in The Telegraph that the meeting would be a victory for the queen, the monarchy and Great Britain:
“I am glad that Mr McGuinness appears to have now accepted on behalf of IRA/Sinn Fein the sovereignty of Her Majesty over Northern Ireland, and I hope that this is a step towards a public recompense and confession of his regret for the violence unleashed by them in his name.”
While the meeting does not mark the end of tensions in Northern Ireland, it draws a line under a conflict that cost the lives of thousands and beset the queen for half of her reign.
More world news from msnbc.com and NBC News:
By msnbc.com news services
Updated 7:30 a.m. ET: Gunmen raided the headquarters of a pro-government Syrian TV station early Wednesday, killing seven employees, kidnapping others and demolishing buildings, officials said.
An Associated Press photographer who visited the Al-Ikhbariya station’s compound said five portable buildings used for offices and studios had collapsed, with blood on the floor and wooden partitions still on fire. Some walls had bullet holes.
Al-Ikhbariya is privately-owned but strongly supports President Bashar Assad’s regime. Pro-government journalists have been attacked on several previous occasions during the country’s 15-month uprising, although such incidents are comparatively rare.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi said the killings were “a massacre against the freedom of the press” in remarks broadcast on state TV.
He later told reporters that it had been carried out by terrorists — the same word the government uses for rebels. Rebels deny they target the media.
“The terrorists planted explosive devices in the headquarters of al-Ikhbariya following their ransacking of the satellite channel studios, including the newsroom which was entirely destroyed,” the state media said.
Restrictions on the media make it difficult to verify accounts of events on the ground.
An employee at the station said several other staffers were wounded in the attack, which happened just before 4 a.m. local time. He said the gunmen kidnapped him along with several station guards. He was released but the guards were not.
Turkey to help ‘liberate the Syrians from dictatorship’
The employee, who did not give his name for fear of repercussions, said the gunmen drove him about 200 meters (yards) away, and then he heard the explosion of the station being demolished.
SANA via EPA
Damage to a TV channel’s building in Drousha, outside Damascus on Wednesday.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Picture supplied by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
“I was terrified when they blindfolded me and took me away,” the man said by telephone.
Also on Wednesday, Syrian government forces have committed human rights violations, including executions, across the country “on an alarming scale” during military operations in the past three months, United Nations investigators said.
Syrian President Bashar aAssad told his newly appointed cabinet that a real “state of war” exists in the country and directed them to direct all its efforts toward vanquishing the uprising against him. ITV’s Bill Neely reports.
Their report, presented by investigation head Paulo Pinheiro to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, also listed multiple killings and kidnappings by armed opposition groups trying to topple Assad.
“The situation on the ground is dangerously and quickly deteriorating,” the 20-page report said.
NYT: Turkish border a crucial link in Syrian conflict
“In the increasingly militarised context, human rights violations are occuring across the country on an alarming scale during military operations against locations believed to be hosting defectors and/or those perceived as affiliated with anti-government armed groups, including the Free Syrian Army,” it said.
Syria’s ambassador dismissed the accusations and threatened to end cooperation with international agencies.
The investigation’s report also said it was unable to determine who carried out a massacre of more than 100 people in Houla in May but that forces loyal to Assad may have carried out many of the killings.
Tensions between President Barack Obama and Russia President Vladimir Putin are making it more difficult for the two countries to find common ground on issues like Syria and Iran. Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov discusses.
Activists reported violence throughout Syria on Wednesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist network, said at least 10 government soldiers were killed in an ambush in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.
In neighboring Turkey, some 30 more Syrian soldiers defected with their families overnight, the country’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported Wednesday. It was not clear if the group included any senior officers.
Assad’s regime has suffered an embarrassing string of high-ranking defections this week, with dozens of soldiers, including senior officers, reported to have fled to Turkey.
Report: Syrian general, dozens of other soldiers defect
Much of the violence that has gripped Syria over the past 15 months has been sanctioned by the government to crush dissent. But rebel fighters are launching increasingly deadly attacks on regime targets, and several massive suicide attacks this year suggest al-Qaida or other extremists are joining the fray.
Many in the opposition consider the media an arm of the regime. Syria does not have a free press and most news organizations are either state-run or private bodies that carry the government’s point of view. Most of the private TV stations and newspapers are owned by politicians or wealthy businessmen who have close links to the regime.
Assad denies that there is any popular will behind the uprising, saying terrorists are behind a conspiracy to destroy the country.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Gunmen ram van into Microsoft’s Greek headquarters in Athens, set vehicle on fire
John Kolesidis / Reuters
A security guard talks on the telephone after an attack on Microsoft’s Greek headquarters in the north of Athens on Wednesday.
By msnbc.com news services
ATHENS – Gunmen rammed a van packed with gas canisters into Microsoft’s Greek headquarters in Athens and then set the vehicle on fire, causing damage but no injuries, police said on Wednesday.
At least two people wielding pistols and a machine gun kept security guards away as they carried out the attack at about 3:45 a.m. local time on Wednesday (9:45 p.m. ET Tuesday), police said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Authorities said no warning call had been made before the incident.
Arson attacks against banks, foreign firms and local politicians have become more frequent in Greece in recent years as the country battles soaring unemployment and struggles through a recession deepened by austerity policies imposed by foreign lenders.