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Colorado Springs fire destroyed at least 346 homes, officials say

June 28, 2012|By Tony Barboza and Laura J. Nelson
  • Colorado Springs, Colo., Mayor Steve Bach speaks at a news conference near the site of the Waldo Canyon fire.
Colorado Springs, Colo., Mayor Steve Bach speaks at a news conference near… (Spencer Platt / Getty Images )

Colorado's toll of fiery destruction mounted Thursday when officials said the Waldo Canyon fire had destroyed at least 346 homes -- surpassing a record set only this month. 

Until Thursday, the High Park fire west of Fort Collins had been the most destructive in state history, burning 257 homes. 

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said the 346 lost homes spanned 35 streets. He warned at a news briefing that the number could rise as authorities make more thorough inspections of the devastated Mountain Shadows neighborhood. 

PHOTOS: U.S. wildfires 2012 

"This community is going to mount an unprecedented response to this," Bach said, vowing to "bring every possible resource to help these people that have been hurt so badly.”

Authorities will meet with evacuated residents Thursday night to tell them the fate of their homes. After that, officials will release maps of the destroyed and damaged residences.

More than 20,000 houses near the city’s western edge remain threatened, according to reports from the scene.

At least eight fires are burning in Colorado, but most of the attention has focused on Waldo Canyon because it threatens a densely populated tourist hot spot, home to more than half a million people and the U.S. Air Force Academy. The blaze has scorched nearly 19,000 acres and forced 32,000 evacuations since Saturday -- including more than 2,000 from the academy.

President Obama is scheduled to tour the devastation Friday.

Cooler weather on Thursday gave firefighters a chance to expand the containment area to 10%. The break in the weather also aided fire crews battling the Flagstaff fire, which had threatened Boulder. Containment of that blaze grew to 30%.

The Flagstaff fire burned dangerously close to town until a Wednesday evening thunderstorm brought rain and higher humidity. Firefighters put out eight to 10 spot fires caused by lightning strikes but increased containment. All pre-evacuation notices for Boulder have been lifted.

The size of the Waldo Canyon fire had been limited until Tuesday night, when fierce winds more than doubled the burn area overnight and prompted mass evacuations.

So far, fighting the Waldo Canyon fire has cost more than $3.2 million. Its cause remains under investigation.

The West is particularly vulnerable this fire season because of light snowfall during the winter and the lack of rain. That has helped lead to a devastating pine bark beetle infestation, leaving stands of dead brown trees in the forests. Similar blazes are being fought in Utah, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico.


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tony.barboza@latimes.com

laura.nelson@latimes.com

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