Video: Colo. crews still battling heat, wildfires

  1. Closed captioning of: Colo. crews still battling heat, wildfires

    >> tonight crews are finally starting to make progress against the most destructive wildfire in colorado history . wildfires continue to pop up elsewhere, and the resources to fight them are stretched thin. nbc's mig quell ammaguer joins us from colorado springs . good evening.

    >> reporter: it was a week ago today when this fire bloroke out. resources are coming in from across the country. on the edge of the burn zone --

    >> that's affirmative. it's near the road.

    >> reporter: hotshot crews mop up the outer edge. here in colorado, 1300 firefighters are on the ground. today from california more resources on the way. a heavy air tanker dispatched to a firefight that could once again blow out of control.

    >> there's a possibility of dry thunderstorms, and that creates erratic winds up to 30, 40 miles per hour. it can push the fire in any direction at any time.

    >> reporter: while the fight for containment in colorado continues, in neighboring utah six wildfires threaten hundreds of homes and have resources stretched thin. crews called for an additional 200 firefighters. only 20 were sent.

    >> we never have all the resources in all the right places at all the right times.

    >> reporter: back in colorado springs where nearly 350 homes are destroyed, today an emergency resource center opened for families with nowhere to turn. rebecca and byron lost their home tuesday on their daughter emma's first birthday.

    >> you're fine for a little while, and then you have another breakdown because you remember something else.

    >> reporter: with 10,000 still evacuated and some shelters near capacity --

    >> he's my baby. he's my best friend . smoky.

    >> reporter: tonight volunteers are taking on hundreds of family pets, a mobile shelter and hospital for four-legged evacuees.

    >> they seem to take real good care of them.

    >> reporter: this week the hinshaw family lost their home, but tonight little lindsay still has her best friend blueford. tonight as 346 families try to rebuild their lives, tomorrow they get the "1st look" at their neighborhoods when they're excourted in by firefighters. the good news is this fire is now 45% contained.

    >> that is good news. miguel in colorado springs . thanks so much.

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/30/2012 7:23:23 PM ET 2012-06-30T23:23:23

A day after firefighters made great progress against the fire outside Colorado Springs, hotter and drier conditions on Saturday made for a major test.

"Today is going to be our test day," Jerri Marr of the U.S. Forest Service said at a morning briefing.

"Fire activity is expected to increase today and tomorrow," the incident command said in its written update. "Possible afternoon thunderstorms could also bring strong, gusty winds. Temperatures are expected to reach at least 15 degrees above season normal."

The 26-square-mile Waldo Canyon fire, one of many burning across the West, is now 30 percent contained, up from 15 percent early Friday.

More than 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen are helping Colorado Springs police staff roadblocks and patrol streets after a deadly wildfire killed two people and destroyed nearly 350 homes.

Police Chief Pete Carey said Saturday the presence of military personnel will allow his department to resume normal police work in the rest of the city.

"We're grateful for the help," he said.

About 10,000 people remain evacuated on Saturday, down from 35,000 at the fire's peak.

Image: Save home next to destroyed ones
Spencer Platt  /  Getty Images
The sun shines Saturday on a saved home behind which are destroyed ones in Colorado Springs.

Investigators haven't been able to visit the area where the fire broke out on June 23 to determine the cause.

Two bodies were found in the ruins of one house. The victims' names haven't been released.

Police say fewer than 10 people may be unaccounted for.

There were plans to let people whose residences burned take weekend bus trips to the affected neighborhoods to take a look, but they would not be allowed to leave the vehicles.

After growing explosively earlier in the week, the Colorado Springs fire gained no ground overnight, authorities reported Friday. And the weather was clear and mostly calm, a welcome break from the lightning and high wind that drove the flames.

Exhausted firefighters fresh off the front lines described the devastation in some neighborhoods and the challenges of battling such a huge blaze, now the most destructive in Colorado history.

"It looks like hell. I would imagine it felt like a nuclear bomb went off. There was fire everywhere. Everything had a square shape to it because it was foundations," said Rich Rexach, who had been working 12-hour days since Tuesday, when flames swept through neighborhoods in this city of more than 400,000 people 60 miles south of Denver.

Story: Wildfire crews fight for health coverage in online campaign

President Barack Obama toured the stricken areas Friday after issuing a disaster declaration for Colorado that frees up federal funds. He thanked firefighters and other emergency workers, saying: "The country is grateful for your work. The country's got your back."

As residents waited anxiously to see what was left of their homes, police reported several burglaries in evacuated areas, along with break-ins of cars packed with evacuees' possessions outside hotels. Carey said Friday a person wearing protective fire gear in an evacuated area was arrested on charges of impersonating a firefighter and influencing a public official.

Community leaders began notifying residents Thursday that their homes were destroyed. Many lost almost everything.

"The blanket that was on my bed when I grew up, a bunch of things my mother had made," said Rick Spraycar, listing what he lost when his house in the hard-hit Mountain Shadows subdivision burned down. "It's hard to put it into words. Everything I owned. Memories."

For Ernie Storti the pain of knowing that his was one of a handful of homes spared in his neighborhood was hard.

"Our home was standing, and everything south of us was gone," he said as tears streamed down his face outside a Red Cross Shelter where he had met with insurance agents.

Authorities were still trying to figure out what caused the fire. They said conditions were improving and they hoped experts would soon be able to work to determine a cause.

More than 1,200 personnel and six helicopters were fighting the fire.

All eight Air Force firefighting planes from four states will be at Colorado Springs' Peterson Air Force Base Saturday and available to fight the fire, marking the first time the entire fleet has been activated since 2008, Col. Jerry Champlin said.

Among the fires elsewhere in the West:

  • Wyoming: A wildfire in a sparsely populated area of southeastern Wyoming exploded from eight square miles to nearly 58 square miles in a single day in hot, windy weather. Authorities said Saturday the Arapaho Fire has some structures but the area is still too dangerous to allow a detailed survey.
  • Idaho: At least 60 homes near Pocatello, Idaho, burned in a fast-moving wildfire that started Thursday evening. The blaze covered more than 1½ square miles. Officials said it was human-caused but gave no details.
  • Utah: Residents of nearly a thousand homes in Herriman, just southwest of Salt Lake City, were under an evacuation order Saturday after a wildfire burned through the area, destroying at least four houses and several other structures, authorities said. Fire crews appeared to have the 350-acre Rose Crest fire at bay Friday evening. A 70-square-mile wildfire in Utah's Sanpete County destroyed at least 160 structures, more than 50 of them primary homes. A similar sized blaze in Utah was threatening about 75 structures.
  • Montana: Residents of eastern and central Montana who evacuated due to wildfires are returning to find neighborhoods scorched and many houses reduced to piles of ash. Fire officials said Friday that 70 homes burned in the 20,000-acre Dahl fire south of Roundup. At least two dozen structures were reported burned in a 270-square-mile fire in the Ashland.

Authorities battling six wildfires in Utah said Colorado was taking most of the available fire crews, leaving them short-handed.

Utah fire commander Cheto Olais said leaders at one Utah blaze had requested about 200 additional firefighters but will probably get no more than 20. "A lot of assets are going to Colorado," Olais said.

"We're strapped nationally," he told The Associated Press. "There's only so many firefighters, and they're already out in the field."

The Associated Press 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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