Hundreds Of homes Now Ashes In Colo.

By: CBS News, Posted by Chelsey Moran
By: CBS News, Posted by Chelsey Moran

(CBS/AP) COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - After waiting for two days, Rebekah and Byron Largent learned from lists distributed by authorities that their home was among the hundreds that burned to the ground in the most destructive wildfire ever to rage across Colorado.

It was especially hurtful as their house was destroyed on their daughter Emma's first birthday.

"Our minds just started sifting through all the memories of that house that we lost that can't be replaced," Rebekah Largent said Thursday night. She remembered her wedding dress, a grandmother's china, the rocking chair where the couple would sit with Emma.

"Our little girl, our 1-year-old daughter, that's the house that she's lived in the longest. It's just really hard to have lost a lot of the memories connected to that, you know? They just burned," she said.

Officials said the Waldo Canyon fire that forced tens of thousands to flee this city 60 miles south of Denver destroyed an estimated 346 homes and left at least one person dead.

More than 1,000 personnel and six helicopters were fighting the fire, which had cost at least $3.2 million to fight and was 15 percent contained as of Friday morning.

Police Chief Pete Carey said the remains of one person were found in a home where two people had been reported missing. He didn't elaborate or take questions after making the announcement late Thursday.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation said two people have been arrested in connection with a burglary at an evacuated home.

President Barack Obama was to tour fire-stricken areas Friday after issuing a disaster declaration for Colorado, releasing federal funds to help.

A fire in northern Colorado, which is still burning, destroyed 257 homes earlier this month, and until Thursday was the state's most destructive.

From above Colorado Springs, the destruction was painfully clear: Rows and rows of houses were reduced to smoldering ashes even as some homes just feet away survived largely intact.

Community officials began the process of notifying residents Thursday that their homes were destroyed. The lists of more than 30 street names were posted at a local high school, listing those areas with heavy damage. Anxious residents scanned the sheets, but for many, the official notification was a formality. They recognized their street on aerial pictures and carefully scrutinize the images to determine the damage. Photos and video from The Associated Press and the Denver Post showed widespread damage.

John Sawyer came home from vacation in Atlanta, only to move into a hotel - his family was one of thousands evacuated as the fire spread.

"It's a lot of stress, and it's hard to sleep well, and you're not in your own house and your family's not all together," Sawyer told CBS News' Anna Werner. "We're trying to do normal lives, but you can't ...

"How are thousands, or hundreds of families going to find places to live, continue their work?" he wonders. "How will the schools function? There's a lot of questions ahead."

Sawyer's house is a half-mile from the fire line.

Colorado Springs, the state's second-largest city, is home to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, NORAD and the Air Force Space Command, which operates military satellites. They were not threatened.

Hundreds of people sought refuge at area shelters operated by the Red Cross, including tourists who'd come to enjoy the Colorado summer.

Preston Harrington, 40, of Lake Charles, La., had been hoping to climb nearby Pikes Peak.

He had been at a Manitou Springs motel when he was evacuated early Sunday, and then moved to a shelter at a high school and was living out of a suitcase

"No drawer, nothing to put this stuff in, it wears on you," Harrington said.

Schneider, the local neighborhood leader, said the enormity of the losses would take a while to sink in.

"There's a lot of tears being shed out there, it's tough," he said.

Conditions were still too dicey to allow authorities to begin trying to figure out what sparked the blaze that has raged for much of the week and already burned more than 29 square miles.

When he first saw the aerial photos of the homes burned in his neighborhood, Ryan Schneider recognized immediately that his house had been spared.

But relief quickly turned to sadness for his many friends and neighbors who hadn't been so lucky.

"I mean, there's a lifetime of things that people collect in these homes, and they've lost it all," said Schneider, vice president of the 1,700-home community association for the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

Amid the devastation in the foothills of Colorado Springs, there were hopeful signs. Weather conditions improved Thursday and some evacuation orders were lifted by the evening, though there was no immediate word on how many people would be allowed back. People were told to still be ready to flee at a moment's notice.

The Air Force Academy was letting residents return Friday morning and officials said normal operations would resume throughout most of the academy.

"We're gaining more confidence," said Bret Waters, director of the Colorado Springs emergency management office. "It doesn't mean we're out of the woods."

In northern Colorado, about 1,900 people were allowed back into their homes on Thursday, more than two weeks after the devastating High Park Fire erupted. The blaze was 75 percent contained. The fire killed one woman and destroyed 257 homes, then a state record that was be eclipsed by the Colorado Springs fire.

Another wildfire gaining steam in western Colorado prompted officials to evacuate homes of about 50 residents in the southern part of De Beque as the 15-square-mile blaze threatened to cross Interstate 70 Thursday night. A 13-mile stretch of the highway was closed.

Firefighters are working to control several wildfires burning in Utah, including a blaze near Delta that has forced the evacuation of several communities.

The 70-square-mile Clay Springs Fire was threatening about 75 structures and had destroyed one cabin and three outbuildings.

Several communities have been evacuated, but residents of Oak City and Fool Creek were allowed to return to their homes.

Investigators believe that the 45,000-acre blaze was human-caused but were still probing the incident.

At least six firefighters have suffered injuries in the various blazes, and one man was found dead in an evacuation area while authorities surveyed the damage.

The Wood Hollow Fire in Sanpete County had also grown to about 70 square miles. It was about 25 percent contained Thursday night after destroying at least 56 structures.

A smaller fire near St. George started Wednesday and had grown to 2,000 acres by midnight, forcing some residents to evacuate. The fire was burning about three miles north of Zion National Park. At least eight structures were destroyed.

Fire officials say 20 homes in the eastern Idaho city of Pocatello have burned and more are threatened in a fast-moving wildfire.

More than 1,000 people have been evacuated from some Pocatello neighborhoods and the community of Mink Creek. The Charlotte fire started Thursday afternoon, spreading quickly through bone-dry grass and brush.

Officials with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise released a report Friday morning that said the fire was estimated at about 450 acres - that's less than one square mile. It's showing extreme behavior, spreading quickly and sparking off small new blazes some distance from the main body of flames.

No injuries have been reported. Fire crews are assisted eight engines and one helicopter, and they hope to have the blaze contained sometime Saturday.

Fire crews in southeastern Montana used a break in the weather to dig containment lines around two wildfires that have burned 200 square miles and dozens of homes. The improved conditions led to residents clamoring to be let back in to check their properties and assess the damage, but authorities kept evacuation orders in place for hundreds of people.

A wildfire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest has grown from about 12,000 acres to 23,000 acres, or nearly 36 square miles, officials said.

A fire has destroyed the Lander Community Center, a landmark for the Fremont County community for many years.

The fire was reported about 5:30 Thursday afternoon and when firefighters arrived the building was fully engulfed in flames.

KOVE radio reports that there were no injuries and the cause of the fire at the community center is under investigation.

The Lander Community Center has been the scene of many weddings, concerts, dances, funerals, the polling place for voting in the Lander area, as well as the home for the One Shot Antelope Hunt.

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