Colorado Residents Tour Fire-Ruined Homes

By MEAD GRUVER | July 3, 2012

People who fled the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history were allowed visits to the most devastated neighborhoods Sunday, and many found their homes among the nearly 350 burned to the ground. Two bodies have been found in the ruins, and officials did not expect to find more.

Residents marveled at the random path of disaster. Nothing remained of C.J. Moore’s home but the concrete, but the letters in her mailbox were unscathed.

It’s just unreal. Unreal,” she said by telephone. “Good lord! I’ve never seen anything like this. And thank God there was nobody there. Thank God there were no people here. There would have been no been no hope.”

Nearby cars were burned to nothing but charred metal, but three neighbors’ homes were untouched. Melted bowling balls were scattered in Moore’s front yard.

About 10,000 people remained evacuated, down from more than 30,000 at the peak of the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs.

The fire was 45 percent contained late Saturday night after a long week of shifting winds that frustrated firefighters. 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.

Authorities at the Colorado Springs fire said they were confident they had managed in many areas to stop flames from spreading.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” incident commander Rich Harvey said Sunday. “We still remain focused on things that could go wrong.”

The two victims’ names haven’t been released. Police Chief Pete Carey said Saturday the approximately 10 people who had been unaccounted for had been located.

Investigators were still trying to determine the cause of the fire that broke out on June 23, and which so far has cost $8.8 million to battle. 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.

– Montana: Authorities ordered the evacuation of several communities Saturday as the Ash Creek Complex fires, which have burned more than 70 homes this week, continued to grow.

– Wyoming: A wind-driven wildfire in a sparsely populated area exploded in size, burning an unknown number of structures.

– Idaho: A fast-moving wildfire that destroyed 66 homes had been expected to be contained Saturday. Some 1,000 residents were evacuated.

(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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