Colorado wildfire turns deadly; Obama plans visit
(CNN) — Rebekah and Bryan Largent clung to one another as their worst fears were confirmed: Their home was among the 346 destroyed in a wildfire ravaging the outskirts of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We’re not sure what we are going to do next,” Rebekah Largent told CNN affiliate KKTV late Thursday just minutes after the couple learned their rented home was among those burned to a pile of smoldering ash and rubble.
The Waldo Canyon Fire, raging since last weekend on the western outskirts of Colorado Springs, forced more than 36,000 people to flee their homes as it hop-scotched through subdivisions and threatened the Air Force Academy.
By early Friday, the fire had turned deadly.
At least one person was killed and another person was missing in a charred house, police said.
The fire has scorched more than 16,700 acres and is still threatening 20,000 homes and 160 businesses.
However, calmer winds and lower temperatures helped firefighters make progress Thursday, bringing the blaze to 15% containment.
President Barack Obama plans to visit Colorado Springs on Friday to survey the damage.
He declared Colorado a disaster area, which will allow federal aid for areas affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire as well as the High Park Fire, which has burned more than 87,000 acres in northern Colorado since it began on June 9. The High Park Fire is 85% contained.
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said he welcomed the president’s visit.
“I really appreciate the president coming here … if nothing more than just to reassure us that this a focus at a national level, that there are people all over this country who are concerned for our citizens and those who have lost their homes,” he said.
“And I do plan to ask for cash.”
Among the hardest hit areas was the Mountain Shadows subdivision of Colorado Springs, where authorities late Thursday discovered a charred body inside one of the homes destroyed by the fire.
The body was found during a search for two people who were reported missing in the area, Police Chief Pete Carey said.
Authorities made the discovery after a family had “inquired about the status of their loved ones,” said police spokeswoman Barbara Miller.
Miller said it’s possible another body is at the destroyed home. Authorities were forced to suspend the search because it was too dark to continue, she said.
Carey declined to release further details or identify the missing, saying the case was under investigation.
Earlier in the day, Carey said fewer than 10 people had been reported missing and authorities were checking with evacuation centers and relatives to try to locate them.
A secondary search of the destroyed homes was scheduled to be carried out Friday, authorities said, to make sure no one else remained inside.
Citing preliminary numbers, Bach said the fire destroyed 346 residences on 34 streets.
Hundreds gathered late Thursday at a meeting for residents of specific streets, many in Mountain Shadows.
“This is going to be a tough evening, but we’re going to get through it,” Bach said. “This community is going to mount an unprecedented response to this. … This community is going to surround them with love and encouragement, and we are going to move forward as a city.”
The Largents suspected their home was among those destroyed when they saw an aerial photo of their neighborhood.
A piece of paper distributed by authorities during the meeting — with their addressed listed — confirmed it.
Gone are the wedding dress, the family photos and their grandmother’s china.
In the smoldering ash are the remains of a rocking chair where the couple took turns over the past year rocking their baby girl, Emma, to sleep.
The Largents should have been celebrating their daughter’s first birthday on Tuesday. Instead, they say, they fled their home.
They took only what they could carry: A few toys, a few changes of clothes, the couple said.
“We thought we were coming back in a couple of days,” Rebekah Largent said.
Firefighters hoped to make progress on the fire on Friday when high temperatures are forecast to be in the lower 90s with winds of no more than 10 mph — a far cry from the 65 mph gusts Tuesday that whipped the flames through mountain canyons and past containment lines.
The U.S. Forest Service estimates it could be mid-July before the fire is fully under control.
The Denver office of the FBI, meanwhile, has joined ATF agents and local authorities in investigating reports that an arsonist may be responsible for igniting the fire.
Authorities also announced the arrest of two people accused of burglarizing a home left vacant by the evacuation order.
Belinda Yates, 38, and Shane Garrett, 36, were being held on suspicion of second-degree burglary, theft, possession of a controlled substance and other related charges, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said.
CNN’s Moni Basu, Greg Morrison, Phil Gast and Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.