Obama promises federal aid for wildfire damage
By Keith Coffman and Jeff Mason ,Reuters
July 1, 2012, 12:10 am TWN
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday promised federal assistance for Colorado's worst-ever wildfire as he toured damage caused by the blaze, which has killed at least two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced the evacuation of 35,000 residents in and around the state's second-largest city.
Obama began his three-hour visit to the area devastated by a still largely uncontrolled fire with a fly-over in Air Force One, surveying part of the Rocky Mountains where smoke could be seen rising from what officials say is the most destructive blaze in state history.
The so-called Waldo Canyon Fire, fanned by strong, erratic winds, roared Tuesday night through foothill communities in the northwestern corner of Colorado Springs and threatened the U.S. Air Force Academy campus in town.
Lighter winds since then have helped firefighters make progress against the flames, but the blaze remained just 15-percent contained on Friday afternoon.
Aerial photos of devastation unleashed by the fire showed large swaths of neighborhoods reduced to gray ash — one house after another obliterated while adjacent dwellings survived mostly unscathed.
"This has been a devastating early fire season for Colorado. This community, obviously, is heartbroken by the loss of homes," Obama said to reporters as he walked along a street of burned-out houses. "We're lucky, because of the quick action that's been taken, that we haven't seen a lot of loss of life."
Obama's motorcade drove through a neighborhood dotted with houses that remained intact next to others that had burned to the ground, rolling past the melted remains of a children's play area and shells of cars destroyed in the inferno.
Authorities confirmed the full extent of destruction on Friday, with 347 homes destroyed and more than 20,000 homes still threatened by the blaze.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey said on Friday that two bodies were found in the debris of a burned-out home, marking the first two known deaths from the blaze. Those victims bring to six the number of people who have perished so far this year in a Colorado wildfire season described by the governor as the worst ever in the state.
The tally of homes consumed by the Waldo Canyon blaze ranks as the most on record, surpassing the 257 homes destroyed recently by a much larger blaze north of Denver.