Colorado Springs, United States, June 29 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said he was taken aback by the amount of damage that was caused by wildfires in the foothills of Colorado's Rocky Mountains.
|U.S. President Barack Obama walks around fire damaged homes in the Mountain Shadow|
neighborhood in Colorado Springs, June 29, 2012. Obama declared the areas earlier today as a
federal disaster area releasing federal funds to help fight the blazes. Obama has declared
that a major disaster exists in fire-ravaged Colorado and has ordered that federal aid be made
available to supplement state and local recovery efforts in areas affected by the High Park
Fire in Larimer County and the Waldo Canyon Fire in El Paso County.（Xinhua/AP Photo）
"The devastation is enormous," the president said Friday after touring the Waldo Canyon fire area and offering condolences to families that lost homes in the region.
Hundreds of homes have been destroyed by blazes that have crept near Colorado Springs, Colorado's second-largest city, and threatened the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The fires, the most destructive in Colorado history, so far have burned 16,750 acres and killed at least two people. Containment costs are more than 6 million U.S. dollars, fire officials said, and house damages based on area real estate values in the area are estimated at more than 200 million dollars.
Obama talked with firefighters and other first responders during his tour and was greeted with cheers when he visited a YMCA shelter and told volunteers "you guys are making us proud."
The cause of the fires, which were expected to take another three weeks to be fully contained, was under investigation by the FBI to determine if any criminal activity was involved.
The president's arrival came on the heels of the first good news from the five-day-old Waldo Canyon fire, as containment efforts went from 5-to-25 percent and saw no additional acreage consumed during the night.
Prior to leaving Washington, Obama signed a disaster declaration for Colorado, making federal funds available to state and local governments and to people affected by the fires.
Obama's three-hour visit to the state's second largest city was criticized by former Republican Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who said the trip distracted from firefighting efforts.
Fire officials disputed the former governor's criticism.
"We had no disruption from Air Force One (the president's airplane) and the president's group affecting our firefighting aircraft," said Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown.
"The president did stop to personally thank a firefighting crew that was on the ground, and that lasted about five minutes," he added.
Obama stopped to thank firefighters in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs, which saw complete streets engulfed by flames and dozens of houses torched. Obama later called the firefighters "genuine heroes."
"People were lining the streets cheering as the president's motorcade went by, but they (Secret Service) wanted to keep their impact to a minimum so as not to impact the firefighting efforts," said U.S. Forestry Service spokeswoman Anne Rys-Sikora.
Smoke and flames were visible on the Rocky Mountain ridges around Colorado Springs and the nearby Air Force Academy but authorities said headway was being made.
"The good news is the containment is up and our lines are holding. The bad news is that the fire is right there," fire official Rich Harvey said, pointing to the nearby mountains.
U.S. Forestry officials say the entrance of the monsoon season and cooler temperatures should help firefighting efforts.