Video: Obama: Colorado 'devastation is enormous'

Image: President Barack Obama tours fire hit area
Brendan Smialowski  /  AFP - Getty Images
President Barack Obama tours the devastated Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday.
By
msnbc.com
updated 6/29/2012 3:41:16 PM ET 2012-06-29T19:41:16

President Barack Obama toured a devastated neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday, praising the courage of fire crews and calling it heartbreaking to see so many homes destroyed.

Obama toured the Mountain Shadows subdivision, which saw the worst damage, stopping at times to talk to fire crews.

"This has been a devastating early fire season for Colorado," he told reporters with him, and "heartbreaking for these families" who lost their homes. Obama earlier signed a federal disaster order to release more resources.

A second body was found on Friday, the Colorado Springs Police Department confirmed. It was discovered in the same debris of a burned-out home that a body -- the first fatality of the fire -- was found Thursday evening. Neither victim has been identified.

Lighter winds and lower temperatures Friday were helping crews contain the fire, which became the most destructive in Colorado history by consuming 347 homes.

The progress was tempered by the fact that bone-dry conditions and high temperatures across the West continue as summer gets started.

In the Rockies region alone, 32 new fires, two of them large, were reported Thursday, the National Interagency Fire Center said in its daily report.

Moreover, the 1-5 scale used by the center to rate fire danger and preparedness was raised from 3 to 4.

This makes for only the third time in the last 20 years the nation has reached this level by late June, the Associated Press reported. The others were in 2008 and 2002, another highly destructive year for wildfires in Colorado and the Southwest.

"This is one of the busier Junes we've had in quite a while," Kari Boyd-Peak, a NIFC spokeswoman, told the AP.

While all resources requested are currently being provided, she said, shortages can't be ruled out if the weather doesn't cooperate. "If conditions stay this way, and we get more fires, and these get worse, we could get to that point soon," she said.

Of roughly 15,000 firefighting personnel nationwide, more than 8,800 have been deployed.

In Colorado Springs, where more than 1,000 crews are deployed, a preliminary report indicates that 347 homes were destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire, Mayor Steve Bach said Thursday. The count isn't final and the numbers may change.

The fire is now 25 percent contained and the cause hasn't been determined, though investigators are looking into whether it was lightning, an accident or arson.

Western wildfires seen from space

Bach toured the heavily damaged Mountain Shadows subdivision on Thursday. "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.

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 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."

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

Story: Lack of spring snow primed Colorado wildfires

Nationwide, 47 large, active wildfires were being fought Friday. The bulk of them were in 10 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

Colorado's second most-destructive blaze is the 136-square-mile High Park Fire, which  destroyed 257 homes and killed one woman.

Triggered by lightning on June 9, it is nearly fully contained and about 1,900 people were allowed back into their homes on Thursday.

In De Beque, western Colorado, 50 people evacuated Thursday as a 15-square-mile blaze threatened to cross Interstate 70. A 13-mile stretch was closed overnight and intermittent closures were expected throughout Friday.

The number of fires and acreage burned nationwide is still below the 10-year average, but that gap has been narrowing in recent weeks.

Reports from other wildfires:

  • In Montana, eight separate fires have leveled close to 100 homes and other structures. The biggest losses were near Roundup, where 64 buildings, half of them homes, were destroyed. Hundreds of people were evacuated.
  • In Utah, one fire destroyed at least 56 structures and continues to burn with just 20 percent containment. A smaller fire near St. George forced some residents to evacuate. Now 60 percent contained, the fire was burning about three miles north of Zion National Park. At least eight structures were destroyed.
  • In Wyoming, a wildfire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest has grown to nearly 36 square miles.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Wildfires ravage Western states

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  1. Jeff and Sydney Sheehan on July 4 survey their Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs, Colo. Sheehan's house escaped damage but 347 homes were destroyed by the Waldo Canyon Fire. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A helicopter drops water on the Fontenelle Fire outside Big Piney, Wyo., on July 4. Over 800 firefighters were battling the fire. (Jim Urquhart / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Firefighters work the Fontenelle Fire outside Big Piney, Wyo., on July 4. (Jim Urquhart / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Firefighter Ryan Christian sits with his crew from Alaska before heading out to fight the Fontenelle Fire outside Big Piney, Wyoming, on July 4. (Jim Urquhart / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Flames consume trees during a burnout operation out at the Fontenelle Fire on July 4. (Jim Urquhart / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A plane drops slurry on the Quail Fire in Alpine, Utah, on July 3. (George Frey / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A house is surrounded by a burned landscape as a helicopter flies above after dropping water on the Quail Fire in Alpine, Utah, on July 3. (George Frey / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Lightning strikes as rain clouds approach the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs on July 3. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Teresa Jiles looks over the debris that was her home in the Glacier View residential area near Livermore, Colo., on July 2. The last evacuees from the High Park Fire were allowed to return home as crews fully contained the 136-square-mile blaze that killed one resident and destroyed 259 houses. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. People cheer and greet firefighters returning to the evacuation shelter at Holmes Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 2, after crews spent the day battling the Waldo Canyon Fire. (Bryan Oller / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. These signs left by residents in the Mountain Shadows community of Colorado Springs, Colorado, were visible on July 2. Nearly 350 homes were destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire blankets a hill on July 2 as a deer walks through a neighborhood thathad been evacuated. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Neighbors who had evacuated embrace after returning to their homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 1. Residents began returning to charred areas after the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and left the landscape a blackened wasteland. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A utilities worker walks past the skeleton of a vehicle while searching for gas leaks in the Mountain Shadows subdivision in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 2. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Policemen wait for residents who were temporarily allowed to visit their homes in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood on July 1. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Church at the Ranch holds its services on July 1 at the Penrose Norris Event Center in Colorado Springs. It would normally hold services at Flying W Ranch, but their place of worship burned down in the Waldo Canyon Fire. (Jerilee Bennett / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Members of Bighorn 209, a hand crew from the Crow Agency in Montana, check for hot spots on the Waldo Canyon Fire on June 29. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon Fire are seen from the air on June 30 in Colorado Springs. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Smoke billows at sunrise from part of the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. President Barack Obama talks to firefighters while touring the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 29. Obama earlier declared a major disaster there and offered more assistance for the fire in which 347 homes have been destroyed. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A firefighter stands in rubble of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood on June 29. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Anita Jones, 92, is welcomed back to her assisted living home in Colorado Springs on June 29 after she and others had to evacuate three days earlier. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Firefighters get massages after coming off the fire line west of Colorado Springs on June 29. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. The Mount Saint Francois area of Colorado Springs, burns on June 28. (Jeremy Lock / US Air Force via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Vandenberg Air Force Base Hot Shot firefighter Richard Strangeas looks out at his worksite on June 28, in the Mount Saint Francois area of Colorado Springs. His team cut a fire line. (Jeremy Lock / US Air Force via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Vandenberg Air Force Base Hot Shot fire fighter Chris Loung wipes sweat while cutting a fire line on June 28 in the Mount Saint Francois area. (Jeremy Lock / US Air Force via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Part of the scarred landscape left by the Waldo Canyon Fire outside Colorado Springs, Colo., is seen on June 28. Pikes Peak is in the background. Cooler temperatures and lighter winds helped firefighters but the blaze had already destroyed hundreds of homes and forced 35,000 people to flee. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Waldo Canyon Fire evacuee Renee Peterson and her daughter Darah, 7, listen to a news conference on June 28. (Mark Reis / The Colorado Springs Gazette via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. This home was among the hundreds lost in the Waldo Canyon Fire. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A C-130 Hercules aircraft from the 153rd Airlift Wing drops fire retardant on the Waldo Canyon Fre on June 27. (Stephany D. Richards / US Air Force via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire rises near the U.S. Air Force Academy's Cadet Chapel as cadets head for a briefing on evacuation procedures on June 27. The Academy evacuated more than 600 families and 110 dormitory residents from the base. (US Air Force via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Thick smoke rises from fires in the southernmost extremity of the Wyoming Range, as seen from the International Space Station on June 27. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Helicopters and even C-130s have bombarded the Waldo Canyon Fire with water and retardant. (Bryan Oller / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Evacuees of the Waldo Canyon Fire are assisted by the Red Cross at the Cheyenne Mountain High School evacuation center on June 27. (Bryan Oller / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Evacuees take shelter at Cheyenne Mountain High School on June 27. (Chris Schneider / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. An aerial view on June 27 shows homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon Fire. (John Wark / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Kent Tinsley and his mother Miriam Tinsley unsuccessfully try to talk emergency personnel into letting them go to their home to get medical supplies for Miriam's husband, Herbert Tinsley, in Colorado Springs on June 27. (Chris Schneider / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. The Waldo Canyon Fire moved near these homes on June 26. (Bryan Oller / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A plume of smoke rises from the Waldo Canyon Fire on June 26. (John Wark / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Part the Waldo Canyon Fire moves into a subdivision north of Colorado Springs on June 26. (Gaylon Wampler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire engulfs Interstate 25 north of Colorado Springs on June 26, causing traffic backups. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. A man tries to evacuate a horse in Fairview, Utah, as the Wood Hollow Fire approached the town on June 26. A woman's body was found in the ashes of a house charred by the fast-moving fire. The blaze had already burned an estimated 30 homes and killed 75 sheep between the rural communities of Fountain Green and Indianola. (George Frey / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Smoke from the Wood Hollow Fire north of Fairview, Utah, is seen from Highway 89 on June 26. More than 500 structures have been threatened, forcing up to 1,500 people from homes. (George Frey / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Homes are destroyed by the Waldo Canyon Fire in the Mountain Shadows area northwest of Colorado Springs, on June 26. (Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Tammy Lance of Payson, Utah, swaddles a kitten after finding the litter alive under a burned-out truck near Mount Pleasant on June 25. The area was devastated by a wildfire that started on June 23. (Lynn DeBruin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. A stream of melted aluminum from a burned-out car is visible on June 25 near Mount Pleasant, Utah. A wildfire destroyed at least two dozen homes in the area and threatened 300 more. (Lynn DeBruin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. A wildfire burns just two miles from Helena, Mont. on June 25. Residents of more than 200 homes were forced to flee, and at least four homes were destroyed. (Matt Volz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Volunteers serve lunch at the evacuation shelter at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs on June 25. (Bryan Oller / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. People watch from Mesa Road as the wildfire continues to burn outside Colorado Springs on June 24. (Susannah Kay / The Colorado Springs Gazette via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Fire approaches homes near Saratoga Springs, Utah, on June 22. Several thousand homes were evacuated after high winds kicked up a fire caused by people firing guns for target practice. (Jeffrey D. Allred / The Deseret News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Little was left of this property on June 20 after the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins, Colo., tore through. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Nebraska National Guard crewmembers try to douse part of the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins, Colo., on June 18. (Colorado National Guard via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. A helicopter drops water above the High Park Fire, about 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colo., on June 18. (Jess Geffre / Colorado National Guard via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Forest burned by the Whitewater-Baldy Fire is seen on June 15 inside the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. The fire was the largest in the state's history. (KC Shedden / U.S. Forest Service via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. A fire crew huddles at the Little Bear Fire in the Lincoln National Forest near Ruidoso, New Mexico, on June 13. Some 2,500 people were forced to evacuate their homes. (Kari Greer / U.S. Forest Service via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. Part of the High Park Fire flares up in the Roosevelt National Forest west of Fort. Collins on June 12. (Bob Pearson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. Tracy Greenwood embraces her daughter, Mariah, as they watch the High Park Fire burn near their home west of Fort Collins on June 11. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. People watch the High Park Fire near Fort Collins on June 11. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Smoke fills the air over a barn, turning the sky orange, as the High Park Fire burns near Laporte, Colo., on June 10. (Marc Piscotty / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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