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Colorado's most-destructive fire ever, Waldo Canyon, is contained

July 11, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson
  • Members of FEMA and the Small Business Administration look at a burned home in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Members of FEMA and the Small Business Administration look at a burned home… (Ed Andrieski / Associated…)

The most destructive fire in Colorado history – which killed two people, scorched almost 29 square miles and destroyed more than 346 homes in less than three weeks – is now fully contained.

The Waldo Canyon fire still smolders in parts of central Colorado, but the boundaries are fully under control, the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday. All residents have been allowed to return to their homes.

“Some fires will burn until fall,” Pat Collrin, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOS: U.S. wildfires 2012

During its 17-day burn, the wildfire caused an estimated $15 million in damage and cost another $15 million to $20 million to contain. At the zenith of the fire’s destruction, more than 32,000 people were evacuated from their homes near Colorado Springs. The devastation spurred support nationwide, including a federal disaster declaration and a visit from President Obama.

The Waldo Canyon blaze, which began June 23, burned so quickly through treetops seven stories tall that even aerial firefighting teams had trouble handling the flames. Such so-called “super-fires” are the result of climate change and longer fire seasons. In addition, modern firefighting technology had suppressed many blazes, leading to a buildup of forest fire fuel, scientists told The Times.

High temperatures, strong winds and low humidity initially hampered firefighting efforts. As of July 2, the fire was still only 55% contained. But a cold front that swept the area this week gave crews on the scorching front lines a break.

“And just in time for monsoon season,” Collrin said.

Heavy rains move through Colorado for about four months a year, Collrin said, starting in early July. That poses problems in the wake of massive forest fires, which leave behind scorched earth, destroyed root structures and a waxy layer of melted plants that repels water.

In coming days, state and federal officials will fight mudslides. The most popular anti-erosion tool is called a fiber roll – essentially, a burrito-like lump of straw, coconut fiber and other absorbent materials placed in tiers along fire-damaged hillsides.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The most destructive fire in Colorado history came on the heels of the state’s largest blaze.

The High Park fire destroyed 259 homes near Fort Collins, Colo., and cost more than $39 million before firefighters reached full containment. The 136-mile blaze surged past firebreak efforts in June, eating through acres of beetle-killed trees in the Roosevelt National Forest.

Other forest fires continue to burn in much of the western United States, including Utah and Idaho.

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Follow Laura on Twitter. Email: laura.nelson@latimes.com.

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