US & Canada

Colorado wildfires: President Obama begins visit

US President Barack Obama has toured neighbourhoods ravaged by a wildfire which drove tens of thousands of people from their homes in a Colorado city.

The visit comes after Mr Obama issued a disaster declaration, allowing federal funds to be used to combat the blaze.

Searchers have found a second body at a burned-out Colorado Springs home, where two people had been reported missing.

The Waldo Canyon fire has destroyed 346 houses, making it the most destructive in the state's history.

Mr Obama was greeted in Colorado Springs by Mayor Steve Bach, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Senator Mark Udall.

On Friday afternoon, officials said the fire was 25% contained.

Incident commander Richard Harvey said there had been no perimeter growth of the blaze, and no more structures lost or damaged.

But the forest service has warned that it could still take weeks to get the wildfires under control.

Another blaze in northern Colorado - the High Park fire - has killed one person and razed 257 homes, officials have said.

More than 1,000 firefighters have been deployed in the state, where nearly 160,000 acres have burned.

Firefighter Rich Rexach, who has been working 12-hour days since Tuesday, told the Associated Press news agency the burnt neighbourhoods looked "like hell".

"I would imagine it felt like a nuclear bomb went off," he said. "There was fire everywhere. Everything had a square shape to it because it was foundations."

Body found

Some mandatory evacuation notices have been lifted, authorities said on Friday, enabling some people to begin returning home.

Many people remain in shelters and officials said that it may take some time to restore gas and electricity services to those who have been allowed to re-enter their houses.

On Tuesday, about 32,000 people were forced to leave their homes as the Waldo Canyon fire surged across the city limits of Colorado Springs, the state's second biggest city and home to some 420,000 people.

On Friday, Police Chief Pete Carey said a second body had been found in a gutted house in the city, a day after the remains of another person were found at the same address.

Officials are trying to trace fewer than 10 people who may be missing.

The authorities informed those who had lost homes on Thursday. Some had already been able to tell if their houses had survived from aerial photos, which showed rows of buildings reduced to ashes.

"Our minds just started sifting through all the memories of that house that we lost that can't be replaced," resident Rebekah Largent told the AP, after learning from lists distributed by the authorities that her house was among those destroyed.

Mayor Bach said everyone would rally round those affected.

"This community is going to surround them with love and encouragement," he said.

Wildfires have also been sweeping parts of Montana, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California.

One fire official in Utah said the state had requested 200 additional firefighters for one of the fires burning in the state.

But fire commander Cheto Olais said they will probably get no more than 20 firefighters: "A lot of assets are going to Colorado."

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