* Fire is 45 percent contained, officials say
* U.S. Forest Service investigating cause of blaze
* All missing people said to be accounted for
* State's largest blaze now 100 percent contained
(Adds largest state fire now fully contained)
By Keith Coffman
DENVER, June 30 Crews battling a deadly Colorado
wildfire ranked the most destructive in state history have made
enough headway to allow most evacuees home, but concerns remain
about rogue bears and burglaries in vacant houses, officials
said on Saturday.
The so-called Waldo Canyon Fire, stoked earlier this week by
strong, erratic winds, is now 45 percent contained, although
the damage wrought by the blaze has devastated the communities
around Colorado Springs, the state's second-largest city.
The wildfire has been blamed for two deaths and the
destruction of 346 homes, while 35,000 residents were forced to
evacuate to escape the threat of flames and heavy smoke.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey said all the people
unaccounted for in the fire zones have now been located.
The fire has scorched nearly 17,000 acres (6,880 hectares)
of timber and brush, much of it in the Pike National Forest west
of Colorado Springs, a city of more than 400,000 about 50 miles
south of Denver. The cost of battling the blaze stands at $8.8
million, officials said.
Many of the evacuees are being allowed back to their homes,
but officials said residents should be alert for bears displaced
by the flames. Also, Carey said his department had received 22
reports of burglaries in homes that had been evacuated.
About 10,000 people remain under mandatory evacuation
President Barack Obama, who toured the area on Friday and
promised federal assistance, used his weekly radio address on
Saturday to ask Americans to contribute to the American Red
Cross to help residents displaced by the wildfires.
"We've got to make sure that we are there with them every
step of the way, even after this fire is put out," he said.
In another sign that crews are gaining the upper ground
battling some of the 11 active wildfires raging in the state,
officials on Saturday declared the High Park fire, the largest
of them, 100 percent contained and lifted all evacuation orders.
That fire charred 259 homes west of Fort Collins and north
of Denver, and torched 87,000 acres (35,235 hectares) of grass,
brush and timber.
Relatively cooler temperatures and lighter winds on Thursday
and Friday allowed crews to carve more containment lines.
On Saturday, weather was slightly cooler than forecast so
"crews made good progress," said incident commander Rich Harvey.
First reported one week ago, the fire turned deadly and
destructive on Tuesday when 65 mile-an-hour winds blew flames
across several ridgelines and into the Mountain Shadows
subdivision, where the remains of two people were found and the
bulk of the property losses occurred.
The number of homes destroyed in the blaze could go up as
assessment teams work their way through the charred areas,
The Waldo Canyon Fire has burned close to the southern edge
of the U.S. Air Force Academy, where crews launched an air and
ground assault to hold off the flames earlier in the week.
The two deaths brings to six the number of deaths in
Colorado wildfires this year, in what Governor John Hickenlooper
said was the worst fire season the state has experienced.
The governor signed an executive order allowing the
deployment of 160 National Guard troops to help police staff
checkpoints and patrol evacuated areas, Carey said.
Lieutenant Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff's
Office said investigators with the U.S. Forest Service are on
site to probe the cause of the blaze.
Despite gains made by firefighters, Harvey warned that with
tinder-dry conditions in the region, things could change
quickly. "The fire potential in this state and other Western
states has the potential to become extreme," Harvey said.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Todd Eastham)