US firefighters get grip on Colorado fire

Firefighters said they have contained 45 percent of a deadly blaze that has left hundreds homeless in Colorado, as President Barack Obama again hailed their efforts.

Obama used his weekly radio address to urge Americans to support emergency workers like those tackling the week-old Waldo Canyon blaze, which has killed two people and destroyed 347 homes in the state's second largest city.

"It's important that we remember what they do each and every single day, and that we continue to provide support to our first responders, our emergency management folks, our firefighters, our military," said Obama, a day after visting the devastated area around Colorado Springs himself.

Four military C-130 planes equipped as fire-fighting air tankers were due to join four others already helping douse the flames, and a battery of other aircraft and fire trucks battling the blaze, the US military said.

On the ground, fire incident commander Rich Harvey said the degree of fire containment had risen to 45 percent, from 30 percent overnight, while warning that conditions remain difficult.

"It's hotter today than normal even though it's cooler than yesterday. The fact of the matter is that it is still a danger out there in terms of fire," Harvey told an afternoon media briefing.

The progress was thanks to nearly 1,300 fire fighters as well as 93 engines and 10 helicopters working around the clock, he said. Cost to put out the blaze stood at $6.9 million as of Saturday.

Crews have been searching for human remains in the ashes of homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire, which spread into the outskirts of Colorado Springs earlier this week.

The inferno has forced some 36,000 residents to evacuate, and left at least two people dead, according to officials.

Obama visited Colorado on Friday for a firsthand look at the devastation and firefighting operations, praising the "courage and determination and professionalism" of those tackling the blaze.

Ahead of his trip, Obama issued a disaster declaration that releases federal emergency funds.

Residents hit by the blaze got a hand Saturday when local officials opened a disaster recovery center where victims have a central location to file insurance claims or just talk to counselors.

In an effort to help people who lost everything when their homes completely burned, local groups planned a concert on July 4th, America's Independence Day holiday. The concert will feature the Colorado Springs Philharmonic orchestra.

Meanwhile bus tours of the ravaged areas are being organized for residents on Sunday, to allow them to see their homes.

"One of the things very important to them is that they get back to see their property," although residents won't be able to get out and look closely because the area remains dangerous, said Colorado Springs mayoral aide Steve Cox.

The blaze forced the evacuation of the nearby US Air Force Academy, where cadets joined fire crews in protecting their barracks and other buildings as the fire swallowed 10 acres of the academy's land.

Summer wildfires are common in the mountains of arid Colorado but rarely burst into residential areas, as the Waldo Canyon Fire did earlier this week. It is not yet known what sparked the blaze.

Record high temperatures, extremely low humidity and wind gusts of up to 60 miles (100 kilometers) an hour have fueled fires across the American West, where an unusually mild and dry winter left widespread tinder-like conditions.

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