COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Even as ribbons of smoke from Colorado’s raging wildfires rose in the foothills around them, 1,045 fresh cadets arrived Thursday at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to begin their basic training.
When the Waldo Canyon fire exploded Tuesday night, flames jumped perimeters and charred about 10 acres of the storied installation. More than 2,100 families were quickly evacuated from residential areas of the academy and, as of Thursday, still had not been allowed to return.
More than 32,000 people from Colorado Springs and its environs have been forced from their homes because of the fire, and authorities are still tallying the damage. “We now know hundreds of homes have been destroyed,” Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said at a Thursday morning news conference.
PHOTOS: U.S. wildfires 2012John Van Winkle, a spokesman for the Air Force Academy, said the ceremony welcoming new recruits went on as scheduled to help hold onto some sense of normalcy.
Even as parents took last photos and the Class of 2016 lined up for the buses that would soon whisk them away, the rest of the academy was strangely quiet and parking lots empty. Van Winkle said most non-essential employees and other cadets were either reassigned to different locations or told to stay home.
“We’re basically having a snow day, only it’s a smoke day,” he joked. Intake of the new cadets was moved inside because of bad air quality.
Steve Ohms, of Lee’s Summit, Mo., who came to Colorado to drop off his daughter, Stephanie, at the academy spent Wednesday night on the floor of a friend’s house when the motel they had booked had been evacuated and closed. Keeping an eye on the smoke that halos the city, he said he already felt nervous saying good-bye to his daughter, the threat of fire so nearby only made it worse.