News Column

First Death Reported in Colorado Wildfire

June 29, 2012

Human remains have been discovered in one of the burnt-out homes in the Colorado Springs suburbs, the Denver Post reported Friday, marking the first death linked to the catastrophic fires.

But there was also better news for the 30,000 plus evacuated residents as lower temperatures overnight enabled firefighters to make progress in containing the most destructive blaze in Colorado's history. According to the National Interagency Fire Center the blaze was 15 per cent contained Friday morning, and no new structures burnt overnight. With cooler weather expected to continue, officials were cautiously optimistic of making further gains on the Waldo Canyon blaze which has destroyed 346 homes so far.

Citing Colorado Springs police chief Pete Carey, the newspaper reported that the remains had been found in a home in the Mountain Shadows neighbourhood. A second person had been newly reported missing, along with 10 others who continue to remain unaccounted for.

The scale of the devastation prompted US President Barack Obama to declare it a major disaster, triggering federal assistance for local authorities dealing with the blaze and its impact. Obama was due to tour the area later Friday.

The NIFC said that across the United States, fires had burned some 3,240 square kilometres. The nation's top firefighting organization raised the national preparedness level to 4, only the third time in 22 years that such a high alert has been issued in June.

President Obama is due to tour the area Friday.

Mayor Steve Bach assembled residents for a community meeting Thursday night so they could learn the status of their homes. Aerial photographs available before the meeting started showed entire neighbourhoods burnt to the ground.

"People finding out for the first time were in tears," said Bryon Largent, who told the paper he had known before the meeting that his home had been destroyed based on pictures he'd seen.

"We got us out, our daughter out and our cat out," he told the Denver Post. "What else matters?"

The fires have moved indiscriminately through the housing areas, destroying buildings on one side of a street while sparing those across the way.

Lynn Becka told the paper that she had lost her house in a fire three years ago and was happy to learn that her house had been spared this time.

"We lost everything three years ago, and the thought of going through that again was unbearable," she said. "We lived pretty much without furniture for a year and a half. We just started buying furniture this past year."

Two people moving through the empty homes were arrested on burglary charges, police said.

The spread of the Waldo Canyon fire, which has scorched 7,500 hectares, has been aided by strong winds and high temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius.

An estimated 36,000 people have been forced to flee the Colorado blaze, which began to encroach on the city of 416,000 on Monday. About 1,000 firefighters are working to contain the blaze.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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