National Guard helps patrol Colorado fire damage
By MEAD GRUVER, Associated Press – 12 minutes ago
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Making steady progress Saturday against the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, crews kept a wary eye on weather that was getting warmer and drier as National guard troops were deployed to help local police get things back to normal.
"The weather is making progress in a bad direction. Hotter, drier, with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Winds will shift from one direction to another," said Incident Commander Rich Harvey.
The 26-square-mile Waldo Canyon fire was 30 percent contained. It was one of many burning across the West, including eight in Utah and a fast-growing blaze in Montana that forced residents in several small communities to leave.
More than 1,200 personnel and six helicopters were fighting the Waldo Canyon fire, and authorities said they were confident they'd built good fire lines in many areas to stop flames from spreading.
"Today is going to be our test day," said Jerri Marr, supervisor of the Pike and San Isabella national forests. "Today we're going to see how all the things that we've done hold."
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 say fewer than 10 people may be unaccounted for.
"There are another couple of people we still have some pretty serious concerns about," Police Chief Pete Carey said.
More than 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen helped Colorado Springs police staff roadblocks and patrol streets. Carey said Saturday the presence of military personnel will allow his department to resume normal police work in the rest of the city.
About 10,000 people remain evacuated, down from more than 30,000 at the fire's peak.
The mood was light as evacuees filtered back into an unscathed neighborhood of winding streets and split-level homes within an easy walk of the burned area.
High school counselor Pat Allen and her husband, Vic Miller, were all smiles less than five minutes after returning to their tri-level home on a quiet cul-de-sac.
"I'm just wanting to kiss the house, dance with the neighbors", Allen said.
Their house didn't smell of smoke. Their electricity was out for two or three days but the popsicles in their freezer didn't melt, she said.
Around the corner, retiree Nina Apsey wandered in search of eight small, solar-powered lights that somebody had taken from her yard during the evacuation.
"I'm assuming it was vandalism," she said.
Prized possessions still piled into the Hyundai sport-utility vehicle in her garage included caribou antlers and antelope and deer head mounts. As flames bore down, she'd also taken a small ceramic cowboy statue. Her late husband taught her how to hunt. He resembled the cowboy, she said.
She wasn't too perturbed about her missing lights because nothing else was touched.
"If that's the worst that happened to me, I'm blessed," she said.
On Sunday people whose homes were burned will be allowed to take bus tours of the affected area.
After exploding earlier in the week, the Colorado Springs fire gained no ground in the last several days. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire that broke out on June 23. Dangerous conditions had kept them from beginning their inquiry.
Among the fires elsewhere in the West:
— Utah: Residents were sifting through the ashes of more than 50 houses destroyed by a central Utah wildfire. Wood Hollow fire spokeswoman Dorothy Harvey says the homeowners were allowed to return Saturday to Indianola along Utah's scenic Route 89. In all, eight wildfires are burning across Utah. The latest to break out Friday destroyed or damaged six houses in the foothills southwest of Salt Lake City.
— Montana: Authorities in eastern Montana ordered the evacuation of several communities Saturday as the Ash Creek Complex fires consumed another 72 square miles, swelling to 244 square miles overnight. One home was destroyed. Elsewhere, firefighters worked to bolster fire lines on at least five other large fires in the state.
— Idaho: A fast-moving 1,000-acre wildfire in eastern Idaho that destroyed 66 homes and 29 outbuildings was expected to be contained Saturday. Slightly calmer weather helped in the effort to halt the human-caused Charlotte fire that started Thursday afternoon. 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 get closer to full containment. The 136-square-mile fire killed one resident and destroyed 259 houses, a state record until the fire near Colorado Springs destroyed 346 homes. In western Colorado, the 18-square-mile Pine Ridge Fire is 10 percent contained.
Associated Press writers Paul Foy in Salt Lake City, Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, and Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.
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