Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Residents tour Colorado blaze devastation


By MEAD GRUVER

Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado— Cars were burned to nothing but charred metal and only concrete remained of many homes in the neighborhoods most damaged by the worst wildfire in Colorado history.

But some residents were allowed Sunday to temporarily return to the area for the first time since they fled encroaching flames last week some finding nothing but concrete and charred metal, while others found their homes untouched due to the random path of the blaze.

More than a week after it sparked on June 23, the Waldo Canyon fire was still being attacked by some 1,500 personnel. Crews working grueling shifts through the hot weekend made progress against the 28-square-mile (72-sq. kilometer) fire, and authorities said they were confident they had built good fire lines in many areas to stop the spread of the flames.

The blaze on Tuesday was 70 percent contained.

Meanwhile, an Air Force cargo plane crashed Sunday in the Black Hills of South Dakota while dropping retardant on the 6.5-square-mile (17-sq. kilometer) White Draw Fire, the U.S. Northern Command said. Military officials have not released any information on deaths or injuries.

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However, at Monday's briefing on the Colorado Springs fire, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jerri Marr said the agency's thoughts went out to the families of those lost in the crash of the C-130.

In Colorado Springs, more dry thunderstorms were expected to produce winds up to 40 mph (65 kph) in every direction Monday, but fire commander Rich Harvey said crews were prepared. He said one area that continued to burn hot inside the perimeter was the aptly-named Devil's Kitchen area.

"It's not because it's flat and easy to get to," he said.

It was just one of several still burning in the West, where parched conditions and heat contributed to the woes facing crews on hundreds of square miles across Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

The cause of the fire, which so far has cost $8.8 million to battle, has not been determined. Dangerous conditions had kept authorities from beginning their inquiry, but investigators were able to start work on Saturday.

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.




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