The last time I was in Colorado Springs, Colorado, I visited the Garden of the Gods seven times I think.
My last view of the area was majestic, looking over the Garden of the Gods into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains ... just past that was Pike's Peak.
Today, flames are visible from that same location and smoke fills the air.
The Waldo Canyon Fire has now spread northeast into Colorado Springs, and officials have begun evacuating residents.
Everyone west of I-25 and north of the Garden of the Gods is under a mandatory evacuation order, including neighborhoods on the south side of the Air Force Academy. I-25 was even briefly closed southbound from Interquest Parkway to Woodmen Road.
I have been following the fire coverage in particular because of my little grandmother, whom I lovingly call "Grandmacita." She lives less than 20 minutes from the Garden of the Gods ... thankfully to the east. I have quite a few relatives in the area and so far they are all safe and sound. Very few members of the extended family have been forced from their homes. My family is very fortunate.
It doesn't matter where you are, you've likely heard about this fire because of all the national news coverage. In fact, KHQA's sister station KXRM is located right there in Colorado Springs and is bringing residents breaking news minute-by-minute on television, social media and the web.
The fire, which started Saturday in Waldo Canyon, spread quickly due to hot and dry conditions.
Firefighters are currently battling multiple wildfires across the nation, but the Waldo Canyon Fire is making quite an impact. The total number of evacuees is now over 32,000 after the fire nearly doubled in size overnight Tuesday. According to KXRM, the latest estimate is that the fire encompasses 18,500 acres and is far from under control.
Sadly, the number of homes lost cannot yet be estimated. The Flying W Ranch has also been lost to the flames. The working cattle ranch was a historical fixture known for western food, entertainment, and chuckwagon suppers.
The Pike National Forest is now closed to the public in and around the Waldo Canyon Area. I dread the charred forest that will be left behind when the fire is finally contained.
I have many fond memories of summer vacations spent in the Pike National Forest, trips to Helen Hunt Falls, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs. Memories of time spent with family that I only see once or twice a year.
My mind races as I follow KXRM online and wait for news to put my family and the nation at ease. My thoughts are with everyone affected by this momentous fire ... especially my little Grandmacita.
Please share your comments if you have friends and loved ones in Colorado Springs.
Best wishes,Michelle Clements Schuckman, KHQA Interactive Marketing Editor
(KXRM reporter Jaryd Wilson contributed to this story.)