Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Obama sees wildfires devastation

Barack Obama arrives in Colorado to survey damage from raging wildfires in the state (AP)
Barack Obama arrives in Colorado to survey damage from raging wildfires in the state (AP)

US President Barack Obama has seen the devastation caused by raging wildfires in Colorado after arriving on Air Force One.

Mr Obama viewed the smoking scene as his airplane made its descent into Colorado. He has declared a "major disaster" in the state and promised federal aid.

More than 30,000 people around Colorado Springs have fled their homes in what has become the most destructive wildfire in state history. At least one person has died, and nearly 350 homes have burned down.

Ever-changing winds this week have caused the fire to push into the city limits of Colorado Springs, frustrating firefighters and roaring along the edge of the US Air Force Academy. It was still too dangerous for officials to get close to determine the cause of the fire or get a complete count of burnt homes.

Police Chief Pete Carey said authorities are trying to track down fewer than 10 people who may be unaccounted for.

The fire is one of the worst in the western United States for decades. From above, the destruction was clear. Rows and rows of houses were reduced to smouldering ashes, even as some just feet away survived largely intact.

The city is home to the US Olympic Training Centre and the Air Force Space Command, which operates military satellites. They were not threatened.

Amid the devastation, there were hopeful signs. Flames advancing on the US Air Force Academy were stopped, and cooler conditions tonight could help slow the fire. The academy was letting residents return, and officials said normal operations would resume.

The fire was 15% contained on Thursday night. The cost of fighting the blaze had already reached 3.2 million dollars (£2.04m).

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said the estimate of 346 destroyed homes could change. Another fire in northern Colorado had destroyed 257 homes.

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