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Crews ‘Optimistic’ as Week-Old Colorado Blaze Half-Contained

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July 1 (Bloomberg) -- Crews made “really good strides” against the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, which is still lashing at the mountainous edges of the state’s second-largest city and is now almost half-contained.

The weather over the last few days has helped crews battling the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs -- which has destroyed 346 homes, forced the evacuation of more than 34,000 people and taken two lives since it started June 23. The blaze, which has cost $8.8 million so far to fight, is now 45 percent contained, said Rich Harvey, incident commander with the multi-agency force.

“We had a pretty good day out there,” Harvey said late yesterday, after showing reporters new containment lines and areas of concern. “Crews made good progress all around the fire. Crews continue to be optimistic.”

Harvey said the fire still has the potential to become extreme, amid dry conditions, especially if the weather turns. This morning, he warned that warmer, drier weather and red flag conditions -- indicating the potential for fire to spread -- are expected today.

The weather has played a key role in fueling and fighting the fire. A few days of cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped the more than 1,500 firefighters on the scene of the blaze, which has consumed almost 29 square miles (75 square kilometers), about the size of Manhattan.

Making Progress

Officials said yesterday morning that they were concerned that higher temperatures could pose a challenge. Instead, cloud cover and light rain helped them get more areas under control.

“We got clouds, we got overcast and it actually started raining,” Jerri Marr, Pike & San Isabel National Forest supervisor, said yesterday. “As a result of the cloud cover, our crews were able to work really hard. They were able to make really good strides.”

Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey said more than 160 National Guard troops have joined the effort to help supplement local police. As some evacuated residents have begun returning home, there have been at least 24 reports of burglaries behind the fire lines while they were away, he said. He called the crimes “unconscionable.”

All missing residents have been accounted for, he said.

About 10,000 people remain under mandatory evacuation orders, said Bret Waters, Colorado Springs’ emergency management director. This afternoon, the city will evaluate lifting some of those orders and allowing more neighborhoods to go home.

“We are working as aggressively as we can to get people back home and businesses back to work,” Waters said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Amanda J. Crawford in Colorado Springs at acrawford24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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