Carolyn Kaster  /  AP
The remains of a burned structure are left in the Mountain Shadow neighborhood devastated by raging wildfires.
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updated 7/1/2012 1:59:54 PM ET 2012-07-01T17:59:54

Melted bowling balls in the front yard were among the strange sights that met C.J. Moore upon her return Sunday to her two-story home, now reduced to ashes by the worst wildfire in Colorado history.

"Which is just hysterical. You wouldn't think bowling balls would melt," she told the Associated Press by phone from the scene in her Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

Moore was one of many residents allowed temporary visits to the most devastated of the area's neighborhoods. Almost 350 homes burned to the ground last week in the Waldo Canyon fire, one of many still raging across the West.

A line of cars a mile long queued up at a middle school checkpoint, where police checked the identification of returning residents and handed them water bottles.

While searching for her great-grandmother's cast-iron skillets, Moore marveled at the juxtaposition of what burned and what hadn't. She found stainless steel kitchenware, a vase lamp, a concrete frog.

"To find my mail in my mailbox, unscathed. It's just unreal. Unreal," she said. "Bird baths are fine. Some of the foliage is fine."

Three neighbors' homes were unscathed. Only concrete remained of other homes, including hers. Cars were burned to nothing but charred metal.

"Good Lord! I've never seen anything like this. And thank God there was nobody there. Thank God there were no people here. There would have been no been no hope."

About 10,000 people remain evacuated, down from more than 30,000 at the peak of the Waldo Canyon fire, but authorities said Sunday morning they hoped to lift more evacuation orders later in the day.

The 26-square-mile fire was 45 percent contained as of Sunday morning. It was one of many burning across the West.

Rich Harvey, incident commander, said crews continue to make good progress.

"We're cautiously optimistic," he said Sunday morning. "We still remain focused on things that could go wrong."

About 1,500 personnel were fighting the Waldo Canyon fire, and authorities said they were confident they had built good fire lines in many areas to stop flames from spreading.

Authorities are still trying to determine the cause of the fire that broke out on June 23, and which so far has cost $8.8 million to battle. Dangerous conditions had kept them from beginning their inquiry, but investigators were able to start their work on Saturday.

Two bodies were found in the ruins of one house, one of almost 350 destroyed in this city 60 miles south of Denver. The victims' names haven't been released. Police Chief Pete Carey said Saturday afternoon the approximately 10 people who had been unaccounted for had now been located.

Police did not expect to discover other victims in the rubble.

More than 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen helped Colorado Springs police staff roadblocks and patrol streets.

A "bear invasion" confronted a few mountain enclaves west of Colorado Springs. The scent of trash had enticed black bears pushed out of their usual forest habitat by fire.

People who left in a hurry didn't take typical precautions to secure household trash against wildlife, said El Paso County Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Kramer.

"It's been sitting there for, well, approximately a week now. So that's become an attraction for the bears," Kramer said.

State game officials were trying to shoo the bears out, he said, and Dumpsters were stationed to help volunteers and returning homeowners throw stuff out.

Kramer said he didn't know how many bears were causing problems.

Among the fires elsewhere in the West:

— Utah: Fire commanders say Utah's largest wildfire has consumed more than 150 square miles and shows no sign of burning itself out. Hundreds of firefighters are trying to hold the Clay Springs fire from advancing on the ranching towns of Scipio and Mills on the edge of Utah's west desert. The fire has destroyed one summer home and threatens 75 others. The fire was 48 percent contained on Sunday.

— Montana: Authorities in eastern Montana ordered the evacuation of several communities Saturday as the Ash Creek Complex fires, which has burned more than 70 homes this week, consumed another 72 square miles. The blaze grew to 244 square miles overnight.

— Wyoming: A wind-driven wildfire in a sparsely populated area of southeastern Wyoming exploded from eight square miles to nearly 58 square miles in a single day, and an unknown number of structures have burned. About 200 structures were considered threatened.

— Idaho: A fast-moving 1,000-acre wildfire in eastern Idaho that destroyed 66 homes and 29 outbuildings was expected to be contained Saturday. Some 1,000 residents were evacuated; it was unclear when they would be allowed back.

— Colorado: The last evacuees from the High Park Fire in northern Colorado have been allowed to return home as crews fully contained the blaze. The 136-square-mile fire killed one resident and destroyed 259 houses, a state record until the fire near Colorado Springs destroyed 346 homes.

Associated Press writers Paul Foy in Salt Lake City, Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, and Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Waldo Fire keeps blazing

  1. Closed captioning of: Waldo Fire keeps blazing

    >>> out west tonight firefighters are gaining ground on that massive wildfire burning in colorado . at this hour 57 major fires are still burning across the country. 50 of them west of the mississippi. the fire near colorado springs torched homes and prompted thousands of evacuations. tonight some evacuees are returning home getting their first look at what's left. good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening. after burning for eight days the waldo canyon fire is roughly half contained. tonight away from the flames it was a tough day for evacuees.

    >> it was just so sad. we were so sad.

    >> reporter: behind the camera susan and her 16-year-old daughter, hannah, get the first look at the damage at what used to be their home.

    >> it's gone. it's not lost in luggage somewhere. it's gone.

    >> reporter: fire stripped away everything. they are among the families in the community where little is left standing.

    >> i have to take that minute and look at that house and i have to cry.

    >> reporter: two years ago she lost her daughter and son-in-law. this week she told her son his childhood home is gone.

    >> my son just sent me a text from afghanistan and said we still have our memories. my kids grew up there.

    >> i'm leaving my house for probably the last time.

    >> reporter: it was tuesday when thousands fled the flames, a moving monster that swallowed home after home and claimed two lives.

    >> each of us comes today with something that we need help with.

    >> reporter: in sunday service prayers for the victims, support for the survivors. today across colorado seven wildfires are ravaging the state, the era of what is being called superfires, massive blazes feeding on forest land where growth goes unchecked. with thousands allowed to return home for just a few hours in colorado springs the lucky ones find a house still standing .

    >> i was just glad it was there and to see it was okay.

    >> reporter: tonight the destruction in colorado is still being tallied. for families like the sullages the damage is done.

    >> she looked at me like i want to go home.

    >> reporter: do you want to go home, too?

    >> yes. i do.

    >> reporter: with 17,000 acres scorched and homes still threatened there is bad news with the ominous skies behind me comes a red flag warning .

    >> so hard to see some of that. thanks for your continued reporting.

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