The number of homes destroyed in Colorado’s most destructive wildfire has risen from a little over 400 to 473 houses a day after authorities reported significant headway in containing the blaze on the outskirts of Colorado Springs with help from rain and calmer winds.
Authorities are lifting evacuation orders after firefighters made a dramatic advance on Friday against the blaze, which has left two people dead.
A surprise rain shower in the afternoon helped firefighters expand containment on the fire outside of Colorado Springs.
The fire has charred roughly 6,215 hectares of rolling, forested terrain northeast of Colorado’s second-largest city since it erupted on Tuesday, forcing some 38,000 to flee their homes.
Fire managers expect it will take nearly another week to fully corral the blaze, but the outlook improved as rain showers moved into the area at midday following an encouraging night on the fire lines that El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa called a “turning point.”
Overcast skies, cooler temperatures and the absence of strong, erratic winds that stoked the blaze during its first three days were also cited as key factors.
“We had a real good day without wind,” Maketa told a news conference. “The rain made a tremendous impact.”
While officials cautioned that conditions could change again for the worse, incident commander Rich Harvey of the US Forest Service said on Friday there was “no significant progress by the fire in any direction today”.
Aerial photos of devastated areas showed large swaths of obliterated neighbourhoods with bare, blackened trees and houses reduced to cinders and rubble.
Governor John Hickenlooper said after touring the fire zone on Friday that he was struck by the “the randomness” of the destruction.
“There are places where few trees were left alone and the homes were burned to the ground. And then areas where the trees burned and the houses were fine,” he said.
The remains of two people killed on Tuesday night, in the midst of an evacuation as flames closed in on them, were pulled from the wreckage of their garage on Thursday.
Firefighters with bulldozers have now managed to clear a new buffer between the western edge of the blaze and the city limits of Colorado Springs.
Evacuation orders lifted
As of late Friday afternoon, a firefighting force estimated to include about 800 personnel, along with air tankers and water-dropping helicopters, had managed to carve containment lines around 30 percent of the blaze’s perimeter, up from five
percent on Thursday.
Officials also lifted evacuation orders for the northern tip of the city, comprising more than 1,000 homes, along with some adjacent communities on its outskirts where some 4,000 to 5,000 people had been forced to flee.
Maketa said an investigation into the two fire-related deaths as possible homicides did not necessarily mean authorities suspect arson.
“When I say, ‘homicide investigation,’ it’s because we have two deceased people [and] that means we investigate it as a crime until we prove otherwise,” he said.