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(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) — Pumping thick, black, suffocating smoke into the sky, the wildfire in Colorado Springs, Colo., has left 32,000 people scurrying for shelter and officials struggling to assess the damage.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey said officials had no plans to release the number of homes destroyed, insisting that residents have a right to be told first, in private.

But the blazing inferno has kept officials at a distance. Conditions were unkind to firefighters on Wednesday as 65 mph winds refueled the fires in Waldo Canyon.  Recent aerial photos show entire neighborhoods wiped out.  
As of Thursday morning, residents don’t know when they will be able to return home, or even if their home survived.

More than 1,000 firefighters are on the ground and many of the nation’s fleet of C-130 planes are dumping retardant from the skies above.  Four of those C-130 planes dropped more than 60,000 gallons of retardant over Waldo Canyon Wednesday.

Satellite images from NASA show even those lucky to escape the flames might not escape the chocking plume of smoke over Colorado’s second-largest city and beyond.

In Colorado Springs, doctors say the air quality right now is at least 10 times worse than it was before the fire.  Dr. Timothy Rummel says about 40 people have been to the emergency room because of smoke inhalation.

With the Fourth of July holiday approaching, authorities reminded residents to respect a ban on fireworks.  

President Obama will tour fire-stricken areas of Colorado on Friday and thank firefighters battling some of the worst fires to hit the American West in decades.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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