Friday, June 29, 2012

One dead, 347 homes destroyed in Colo. wildfire

'It's as close to hell as I could imagine,' mayor says of devastated area

NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports from Colorado Springs, Colo., where President Obama is expected to tour the devastation left in the wake of intense wildfires.

updated 6/29/2012 10:59:47 AM ET

A preliminary report indicates 347 residences on about 35 streets have been destroyed by the Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said Thursday afternoon, adding that the count isn't final. 

The fire, the most destructive in Colorado's history, was 15 percent contained Friday morning. The cause hasn't been determined, said Jerri Marr of the U.S. Forest Service.

Late Thursday, authorities said a body was found in the debris of a burned-out home in the area, marking the first fatality from the blaze.

Police Chief Pete Carey said earlier that two people had been reported missing, and that a search was continuing, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier Thursday, Bach toured the heavily damaged Mountain Shadows subdivision.

"There was nothing left in some areas -- burned out foundations that were smoldering. It looked like a nuclear weapon had been dropped. It's as close to hell as I could imagine," Bach said after the morning tour.

Image: View of destroyed properties
Rick Wilking  /  Reuters
Some of the properties destroyed outside Colorado Springs, Colo, are seen Thursday. 

Crews are getting a break in the weather, with the area no longer under a "red flag warning," which means extreme fire danger.

On Wednesday, mandatory evacuations were ordered for the 3,000 people in the town of Crystola and part of Woodland Park after more than 32,000 people had to flee on Tuesday. 

Those evacuation orders came as the fire moved down a ridge toward those homes, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported, citing communications from an emergency services scanner. "It's huge," said the voice over the scanner. "I would estimate two-three miles in width."

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Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown on Wednesday called the Waldo Canyon Fire a "monster event" that is "not even remotely close to being contained." The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Tuesday night, the community of Mountain Shadows, northwest of Colorado Springs, appeared to be enveloped in an orange glow.

President Barack Obama will tour the Colorado Springs area on Friday to show his support, the White House said Wednesday.

Story: Lack of spring snow primed Colorado wildfires 
The state's second largest blaze is the 136-square-mile High Park Fire, which has destroyed 257 homes and killed one woman. That fire was triggered by lightning on June 9 and is nearly contained. 

In Boulder, Colo., the Flagstaff Fire burned to within 1.5 miles of the southern edge of the University of Colorado campus. The 230-acre fire was 30 percent contained and "remains a threat to Boulder," Reuters quoted incident commander Rocky Opliger as saying.
Nationwide, 35 large, active wildfires were being fought. The bulk of them were in nine western states: Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California.
Although the fire season got off to an early start in the West, the number of fires and acreage burned nationwide is still below the 10-year average for this time of year.

The Associated Press provided this roundup of other fires across the West:
  • In Utah, a 72-square-mile wildfire has destroyed at least 56 structures, mainly homes, between Fountain Green and Fairview. That number is expected to rise. One person has died in that fire. A fire near St. George started Wednesday afternoon and had grown to 2,000 acres by midnight, forcing an undetermined number of residents near New Harmony and Bumblebee to evacuate. The fire was burning three miles north of Zion National Park, prompting park officials to close a canyon area popular with hikers known as the Kolob section.
  • In southeast Montana, wildfires that have torched more than 200 square miles and burned dozens of homes spread farther Wednesday, with more evacuations ordered after a blaze near Roundup jumped a fire line. The growing Dahl Fire, which has burned more than 60 homes by one estimate, forced an unknown number of residents to leave their homes near its southern flank, on top of an estimated 600 people evacuated the day before. "That's one of the most dangerous fires in the history of Montana," Gov. Brian Schweitzer said.
  • In Wyoming, a wildfire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest has grown from about 2,000 acres to 12,000 acres, or nearly 19 square miles, officials said Wednesday. Authorities worked to get campers out of the area.

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