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One Dead In Colorado Wildfire


Firefighters are hoping that lighter winds and cooler weather today will give them a bit of an edge, as they battle the biggest wildfire in Colorado history. The Waldo Canyon fire is pushing through the Sierra foothills, near Colorado Springs. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The biggest fire in Colorado history is the High Park fire, currently burning to the north. Also, the Waldo fire is not located in the Sierra foothills.] In less than a week, it's burned more than 28 square miles, destroyed some 350 homes and forced more than 35,000 people to evacuate.

Now officials are reporting a death in connection with the fire. Human remains were found in the rubble of a burned out suburban home, and police say a second person is missing. NPR's Jeff Brady is in Colorado Springs and has the story.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey says his department received some sort of information. He wasn't more specific. But it prompted a search of the home.

PETE CAREY: Unfortunately, the remains of one human being was discovered in the debris. Initial information was that two adults were missing from that residence.

BRADY: It's not clear if the other person is OK. Carey says the investigation is continuing. Authorities say routine searches of the destroyed houses has been delayed, because it's been too dangerous for crews to be in the area.

Meanwhile, hundreds of others who lived in the path of the Waldo Canyon fire learned last night whether their home was among those destroyed. In a closed-door meeting with city officials, residents were separated into groups by the name of the street they lived on. Rebekah and Byron Largent's home burned. They have renters insurance, but they've lost precious items.

BYRON LARGENT: Her wedding dress.

REBEKAH LARGENT: My grandmother's china.

LARGENT: The one thing that we're both hanging onto is the rocking chair that we rocked our baby to sleep in for a full year.

BRADY: The young couple are staying with family. They're trying to be upbeat, even when it comes to the effect on their young daughter.

LARGENT: Fortunately she's at a great age. She's one.

LARGENT: Yeah, she's one year old.

LARGENT: And so she is not attached to anything yet. But our house burned on the night of her birthday, so it'll definitely be a memorable birthday for her, for us.

BRADY: The city didn't have any information for Susan Solich. But she says a police officer friend told her her house was destroyed. She came to the meeting hoping for more information.

SUSAN SOLICH: I was in there with my neighbors and almost all of us have lost our homes. And you know, God bless us all.

BRADY: At the meeting with the city, Solich says the mood was tense.

SOLICH: I think tempers were high, but everyone is really high anxiety right now. And everyone wants to get back in their homes and see if there's anything to save. But I don't think there's going to be much to save.

BRADY: Authorities lifted evacuation orders for some of the fire area, but it's still not clear how long residents in the hardest hit areas will have to wait. An investigation is under way to learn how the fire started. The U.S. Forest Service has set up a tip line. Jerri Marr is the forest supervisor for the Pike and San Isabel National Forests.

JERRI MARR: I know everybody wants to know, how'd it start? I can tell you nobody wants to know that more than me. And as soon as I found that out, I'll be happy to share that with everybody.

BRADY: As crews continue to make progress in containing the Waldo Canyon fire, President Obama is scheduled to tour the vast area of scorched forest, grassland and subdivisions today.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Colorado Springs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
The introduction to this story incorrectly says the Waldo Canyon fire is the largest one in Colorado history. That distinction belongs to the High Park fire, currently burning to the north. The Waldo fire is also mistakenly said to be located in the Sierra foothills.
Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.

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