The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

July 2, 2012

'Unreal': Residents tour Colo. blaze devastation

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Cars were burned to nothing but charred metal and only concrete remained of many homes in the neighborhoods most damaged by the worst wildfire in Colorado history.

But for residents allowed Sunday to temporarily return to the area for the first time since they fled encroaching flames last week, the fact that other things were left untouched was equally jarring.

"Good Lord! I've never seen anything like this," said C.J. Moore upon her return to her two-story home, now reduced to ashes and one of nearly 350 houses that were damaged or destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire that left two people dead.

While searching for her great-grandmother's cast-iron skillets, Moore marveled at the juxtaposition of what burned and what hadn't. "To find my mail in my mailbox, unscathed. It's just unreal," she told The Associated Press by phone. "Bird baths are fine. Some of the foliage is fine."

More than a week after it sparked on June 23, the Waldo Canyon fire was still being attacked by some 1,500 personnel. Crews working grueling shifts through the hot weekend made progress against the 28-square-mile fire, and authorities said they were confident they had built good fire lines in many areas to stop the spread of the flames.

The blaze was now 55 percent contained.

It was just one of several still burning in the West, where parched conditions and heat contributed to the woes facing crews on hundreds of square miles across Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

In Colorado Springs, a line of cars a mile long queued up at a middle school checkpoint, where police checked the identification of returning residents and handed them water bottles.

Not far away from Moore's home, Bill Simmons and his wife, Debbie Byes, returned to their tri-level, passive-solar stucco home and found no damage — just some ashes in the driveway.

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