Colorado wildfires: President Obama begins visit

Colorado wildfires: President Obama begins visit

29 June 2012

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 USA  -US President Barack Obama has arrived in Colorado to visit neighbourhoods where wildfires have forced tens of thousands from their homes.

The visit comes after Mr Obama issued a disaster declaration, allowing federal funds to be used to combat the blaze.

One person was declared dead after human remains were found in a burned-out home in Colorado Springs.

The Waldo Canyon fire has destroyed 346 houses, making it the most destructive in the state’s history.

Mr Obama was met in Colorado Springs by mayor Steve Bach, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and Senator Mark Udall.

On Friday morning, officials said the fire was 15% contained and that favourable weather conditions helped firefighting crews make good progress overnight.

Incident commander Richard Harvey said there had been no perimeter growth of the fire, and no additional structures were lost or damaged.

But the forest service has warned that it could still take weeks to get the wildfires under control.

Another blaze in northern Colorado – the High Park fire – has killed one person and has destroyed 257 homes, officials have said.

Half of America’s firefighting resources, some 1,100 personnel, have been deployed in the state, where nearly 160,000 acres have been razed.

Body found

Some mandatory evacuation notices have been lifted, authorities said on Friday, enabling some people to begin returning home.

Many people remain in shelters and officials said that it may take some time to restore gas and electricity services to those who have been allowed to re-enter their houses.

On Tuesday, about 32,000 people were forced to leave their homes as the Waldo Canyon fire surged across the city limits of Colorado Springs, the state’s second biggest city and home to some 420,000 people.

Late on Thursday, Police Chief Pete Carey said the remains of a person were found in a gutted house in the city.

He said the body was one of two people reported missing from that address, but did not give further details.

On Friday he said authorities were trying to trace fewer than 10 people who may be unaccounted for.

Officials on Thursday said the fire was halted before it reached the academy for US Air Force cadets. It had been evacuated, but residents were allowed to return on Friday morning.

The authorities informed those who had lost homes on Thursday. Some had already been able to tell if their houses had survived from aerial photos, which showed rows of buildings reduced to ashes.

“Our minds just started sifting through all the memories of that house that we lost that can’t be replaced,” resident Rebekah Largent told the Associated Press news agency, after learning from lists distributed by the authorities that her house had been among those destroyed.

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said it would be a difficult time for those affected.

“This community is going to surround them with love and encouragement,” Mr Bach said, according to the AP.

The fire, which has caused an estimated $3.2m (£2m) of damage, was 15% contained as of late on Thursday.

President Obama is due to tour the affected areas later on Friday. His decision to declare a disaster in the area makes federal funds available for local relief efforts.

Wildfires are also sweeping parts of Montana, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California.


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