National Guard helps patrol Colorado fire damage
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — 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 45 percent contained by Saturday afternoon. 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.
About 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. “Crews made progress all around the fire,” said Harvey, who was cautiously optimistic. “The fire potential is still very, very high. It’s extreme and explosive.”
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 hadn’t been released. Police Chief Pete Carey said Saturday the approximately 10 people who were unaccounted for had been located.
Police did not expect to find other victims in the rubble.
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.
Around the corner, retiree Nina Apsey wandered in search of eight small, solar-powered lights that someone had taken from her yard during the evacuation. “I’m assuming it was vandalism,” she said.
She wasn’t too perturbed about her missing lights because nothing else was touched.
People whose homes were burned will be allowed to tour the affected areas today.
Authorities said some residences would be cordoned off with police tape, and people would not be allowed beyond that point.
The home of Janine Herbertson and her 15-year-old daughter, Tessa Konik, remained unburned amid 150 others that were destroyed, Herbertson said Saturday as they ate lunch outside a Red Cross shelter.
Even so, “I’m afraid to go on the tour tomorrow and see our neighborhood in ruins.” she said.