Obama declares 'major disaster' in blaze-hit Colorado

US President Barack Obama today declared a "major disaster" in the western state of Colorado, where wildfires have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

Obama -- who has planned to tour the scorched areas later in the day -- issued the declaration to release federal disaster assistance for state and local authorities battling the High Park and Wald0o Canyon fires.

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach told reporters yesterday that at least 346 homes in the state's second largest city had been destroyed by the Waldo Canyon blaze, adding that the figure was a preliminary estimate.

Officials had planned to meet privately yesterday night with homeowners and pleaded with reporters to respect the residents' privacy when they leave the closed-door meeting.
The fire, one of several blazing across the front range of the Rocky Mountains, has torched more than 18,500 acres but there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

The blaze was 10 per cent contained by yesterday as lower temperatures and higher humidity finally gave firefighters a much-needed break.

More than 8,800 firefighters were battling some 41 major wildfires across the United States yesterday, using 21 air tankers, more than 550 fire engines and 170 helicopters.
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.

The High Park fire -- sparked by lightning in a more remote area northwest of Denver -- is the second biggest in the state's history.

It destroyed 257 homes and ate through 87,284 acres but is now 75 per cent contained, officials said.

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