P. Solomon Banda
and Thomas Peipert
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO.: A raging Colorado wildfire that forced tens of thousands to flee destroyed an estimated 346 homes this week, making it the most destructive fire in the state’s history, officials said Thursday.
From above, the destruction becomes painfully clear: Rows and rows of houses were reduced to smoldering ashes even as some homes just feet away survived largely intact.
On one street, all but three houses had burned to their foundations, said Ryan Schneider, whose home is still standing in a neighborhood where 51 others were destroyed.
“I was real happy at first. My wife was happy,” he said. “The emotion of seeing the other homes, though, was instant sadness.”
The aerial photos showing the scope of one of the worst fires to hit the American West in decades did little to help ease the concerns of many residents who still did not know the fate of their homes.
Amid the devastation in the foothills of Colorado Springs, there were hopeful signs. Flames advancing on the U.S. Air Force Academy were stopped, and cooler conditions could help slow the fire.
The cost of fighting the fire has surpassed $3.2 million.
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said the 346 estimate could change. A fire in northern Colorado, which is still burning, destroyed 257 homes and until Thursday was the most destructive in state history.
For now, Bach said, the news of the destruction would make it very difficult for the city about 60 miles south of Denver.
“This is going to be a tough evening, but we’re going to get through it,” Bach said.
More than 30,000 people frantically packed up belongings Tuesday night as the flames swept through their neighborhoods. While there’s no indication yet the blaze claimed any lives, fire officials said they would search each home looking for possible remains.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation said two people have been arrested in connection with a burglary at an evacuated home. Belinda Yates and Shane Garrett were being held on charges including second-degree burglary and possession of methamphetamine.
Community officials were planning to begin the process of notifying residents Thursday that their homes were destroyed. For many residents, the official notification was a formality.
Residents recognize their street on aerial pictures and carefully scrutinize the images to determine the damage.