COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Crews gained the upper hand on the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history Saturday and had more than half the blaze contained as officials prepared to lift mandatory evacuation orders for hundreds of residents.
Incident commander Rich Harvey said at an evening news conference that containment of the Black Forest Fire was at 55 percent, up from 45 percent earlier Saturday.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said some residents along the north and west fronts of the initial evacuation zone were being allowed to return to their neighborhoods at 8 p.m. after authorities downgraded evacuation orders from mandatory to pre-evacuation status in specific areas.
While most mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted, as the fire zone remained at about 25 square miles, hundreds remained displaced after the fire destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed two people. The victims' bodies were found inside their garage Thursday, their car doors open as though they had been about to flee.
The announcement that crews had made significant advances on the blaze and taken control of it came the same day authorities were able to gain a clearer picture of the grim landscape it left behind after exploding Tuesday outside Colorado Springs. It's unclear what caused the fire, which sparked amid record-high temperatures and tinder-dry conditions, but officials believed it was human-caused.
No additional homes were destroyed as fire crews expanded containment lines, Sheriff Maketa said. Also, there were no new reports of injury or death, he said.
Earlier Saturday, worried residents waited for permission to return to their neighborhoods to see whether their homes were still standing.
Maketa cited deputies in saying that some areas in the fire's path had been described as looking "like a nuclear bomb went off," making it difficult to assess the damage before Saturday.
"That is the level of incineration and destruction that took place in some areas," he said.
Containment was at 55 percent by evening, up from 45 earlier Saturday. So far, it's cost more than $3.5 million to fight.