Before (above) and after (below): The devastating Colorado wildfire can be seen in two overhead images in the Colorado Springs neighbourhood of Mountain Shadows
  • 32,000 evacuated from Colorado Springs including Air Force Academy cadets as inferno spread
  • About 300 homes reportedly destroyed in Waldo Canyon Fire, which has been named the No. 1 priority for emergency crews
  • Obama to tour the disaster-stricken area on Friday to meet firefighters working around the clock
Photos of the heartbreaking devastation of the wildfires that have ravaged Colorado in the last several days have revealed piles of rubble where houses once stood before the flames engulfed the region, leaving more than 30,000 people homeless.

The photos revealed the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs, where dozens of homes can be seen decimated by the fast-moving fire.

The raging wildfire that has encroached on the state's second-largest city and threatened the U.S. Air Force Academy.

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.

© EPAHard day's night: A Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter drops slurry on a hot spot at the Waldo Canyon Fire
Heavy smoke and ash billowed down the mountain from the Waldo Canyon Fire, which is top priority for the nation's firefighters. Jeffrey Lucas, who has lived in the area all his life, said his family home had burned to the ground.

The 23-year-old told the Denver Post: 'The fire was literally coming down the hill as all of us were running to grab things out of the house and get out of there.'
© APWhole streets of house have been razed to the ground by the fire in the Colorado Springs neighbourhood of Mountain Shadows
He added that there were no calls from police and they had seen how close the fire was getting from watching news reports on TV. The family watched their home catch fire just 30 minutes after they escaped.

Their home was one of about 300 that are believed to have been destroyed in the Waldo Canyon blaze, the Post reported.

Ted Stefani told the Post that he found out his five-bedroom home was gone when he saw it consumed by flames in a photo on the front page of the newspaper.

Quenching: A Modular Airborne Firefighting System-equipped C-130 drops fire retardant on a section of the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs. As news that a C-130 has crashed in another raging fire in South Dakota, the US military has grounded its fleet of fire tankers just when they are needed most.
Watching it burn: Distraught residents stand helplessly as high winds push the Waldo Canyon Fire into the Garden of the Gods and Mountain Shadows neighborhoods in Colorado Springs
The cause of the blaze remains unknown and local authorities said Thursday that conditions are too dangerous for any such investigation to begin.

El Paso County sheriff's Lt Jeff Kramer said that U.S. Forest Service agents are 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 closure of a portion of Zion National Park.
© ReutersSome of the hundreds of totally destroyed homes are seen in the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs
Seen from space: The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this natural-color image on June 26; Smoke trails mark the locations of actively burning fires
Colorado's Thursday weather forecast offered some hope for progress, with the temperature expected to reach into the mid-80s - about 5 degrees cooler than Wednesday - and humidity 15 to 20 percent, about 5 percentage points higher.

Winds were forecast to be 10 to 15 mph out of the west.

'It's not windy yet this morning. That's always a good sign,' fire information officer Rob Dyerberg said Thursday.
Devastation: Winds have pushed the Waldo Canyon fire into the foothills neighborhoods west of Colorado Springs, Colorado
Neighborhoods where explosions of bright orange flame Tuesday signaled yet another house had been claimed were still dangerous, keeping authorities away from being to assess the damage.

An AP aerial photo taken Wednesday of one neighborhood showed hundreds of heavily damaged or destroyed homes.
© APDestruction: A residential area party destroyed by the Colorado wildfires is seen from this aerial photo
Fleeing: Tayor Salamon, 11, holds on to his dog as they pile in the back seat and his family rushes to leave their home in Colorado Springs
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 an ominous orange smoke overhead.

Trying to learn about damage, the Gigandets drove to near their west Colorado Springs neighborhood to talk to police officers and see the area.
Watching as Rome burns: A man outside of Colorado Springs observes the blanket of smoke billowing out from Colorado Springs
They scoured media photos and spent hours on the phone with friends for any scrap of information. Authorities told the Gigandets it could be at least week before they're allowed home.

'We only packed clothes for four days,' Florine Gigandet, 83, a retired photo printer, said. 'I really thought that we'd be gone for only a day.'

The displaced residents took stock of what they left behind. Some sat in coffee shops, others stood on bluffs to keep an eye on their neighborhoods, and others met with insurance company representatives.
© APThis aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs
The fire moved so fast that Laura Oldland grabbed damp laundry out of her drier and threw it into a suitcase. But she forgot her grandmother's dishes.

The Gigandets, avid golfers, left their clubs behind. 'We should be out golfing,' said Ed Gigandet, 81, a retired mining machinery sales analyst.
Neighbourhood ravaged: Smoke rises over the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs, Colorado, after the Waldo Canyon fire blazed through the area
Gone with the wind: High winds push the Waldo Canyon Fire into the Garden of the Gods and Mountain Shadows neighborhoods in Colorado Springs, Colorado; three men capture the destruction with cameras and mobile phones
Meanwhile, the White House said 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.

The president phoned Gov John Hickenlooper yesterday to pledge his support and resources for the firefight, and said that both that his thoughts and prayers are with responders and families impacted by the fires, according to a statement from the White House.
Neighborhood inferno: The Waldo Canyon Fire engulfs an entire neighborhood in the foothills of Colorado Springs as temperatures of more than 100 degrees only served to fuel the flames
Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey said Obama's visit to Colorado, considered a key battleground state in the presidential election, would not tax the city's already-strained police force.

Gov Hickenlooper said he expected the president might sign a disaster declaration that would allow for more federal aid.

The fire blackened up to 50 acres along the southwest boundary of the Air Force Academy campus, said Anne Rys-Sikora, a spokeswoman for the firefighters. No injuries or damage to structures - including the iconic Cadet Chapel - were reported.
Aerial firefight: A helicopter drops water over Queens Canyon, near Colorado Springs, Colorado, while fighting the Waldo Canyon fire
© APUp in flames: An entire neighborhood burns near the foothills of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Tuesday, June 26
Fort Carson, an Army infantry post about 15 miles from the academy, sent 120 soldiers along with bulldozers and other heavy equipment to help clear a line to stop the fire on the academy.

Rys-Sikora said the academy was not getting a disproportionate share of equipment and firefighters.

'It's not lopsided,' she said.

Late Wednesday night, Air Force Academy officials announced they were relocating about 550 cadets off academy grounds.
© APRun for your life: Smoke and ash billowed down the hill from the Waldo Canyon wildfire causing 32,000 residents to be evacuated
Courage under fire: Firefighters struggle to get close to the blaze
About 200 cadets in summer academics were being moved to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and 350 others in airmanship and other training programs were released to local sponsor families, the school said.

The cadet area isn't immediately threatened, and an incoming class of more than 1,000 is still scheduled to arrive Thursday.

The full scope of the fire remained unknown. So intense were the flames and so thick the smoke that rescue workers weren't able to tell residents which structures were destroyed and which ones were still standing.

Indeed, authorities were too busy Wednesday struggling to save homes in near-zero visibility to count how many had been destroyed in what is the latest test for a drought-parched and tinder-dry state.

At one point, a team assessing the damage had to leave charred neighborhoods because of smoke and fire danger.

FBI officials are present and have said they were investigating the cause of the blaze.

In addition to the some 30,000 evacuees, about 3,000 more people were evacuated to the west of the fire, Teller County authorities said Wednesday, and Teller County courts were closed through Thursday.
The Red Cross was accommodating victims at its shelters, with space enough for perhaps 2,500 people. Most evacuees were staying with family and friends.

Crews also were battling a deadly and destructive wildfire in northern Colorado and another that flared Tuesday night near Boulder.

Colorado wasn't the only state affected by fire, as several burned throughout the parched West.