updated 5/24/2006 5:35:07 PM ET 2006-05-24T21:35:07

A grass-fed wildfire burning on the grounds of the Air Force Academy quickly grew to 40 acres Wednesday, forcing a handful of evacuations and prompting authorities to call in air support.

The fire was burning near the southern boundary of the academy and was near the horse stables, an academy spokesman said. Portions of the stable area, both people and animals, were being evacuated.

The school asked people to avoid the area, but cadets and housing areas were not considered to be in danger. The academy is just north of Colorado Springs.

The fire was reported in a neighborhood south of the school at about 10:30 a.m. and had grown to 40 acres by noon, said Lt. Carl Lyman of the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

"When I got here I grabbed blankets and started dousing the fire," resident Bill Renfrew told The Gazette newspaper. He lives a quarter-mile from the fire but arrived to try to help his neighbors.

On Tuesday, crews put out a blaze that burned 10 acres near Eagleview Middle School in the Colorado Springs area. It was started by a wayward rocket launched as part of a science class.

Southern Colorado has received just a third of the moisture it received last year and conditions are drier than they were in 2002, the worst wildfire season in state history. Pueblo's year-to-date precipitation is 2.12 inches compared to the normal average of 3.9 inches through May.

"We are still finding abandoned campfires, despite the situation that's out there right now," Forest Service spokeswoman Cass Cairns said. "It's only going to take one" to start a forest fire.

In northeastern Colorado, storms Monday night were welcome but did not bring nearly enough rain to help farmers.

"It's not enough to do much good for the wheat, but it will help for a few days," said Steve Young, a grain merchandiser at the Holyoke Co-op. "By far the biggest problem is the drought. The plants are just drying up in some areas."

The drought conditions caught some by surprise because the winter snowpack in the northern Rockies had been adequate and reservoir storage was good. But a warm spring melted the snow faster than usual.

Storage reservoirs are now being drawn down as farmers use water on alfalfa fields and irrigated pastures.

"The wheat's suffering terribly and the pastures have just about had it," said Ron Bornhoft of Willard, who notes that 2006 is giving a grim new meaning to the term "dryland farmer."

"I unhooked the tractor and put it in the shed, and it can just sit there until something changes," Bornhoft said.

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