COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A raging Colorado wildfire that forced tens of thousands to flee destroyed an estimated 346 homes this week, making it the most destructive fire in the state's history, the mayor of Colorado Springs said Thursday.
From above, the destruction becomes painfully clear: Rows and rows of houses were reduced to smoldering ashes even as some homes just feet away survived largely intact.
On one street, all but three houses had burned to their foundations, said Ryan Schneider, whose home is still standing in a neighborhood where 51 others were destroyed. "I was real happy at first. My wife was happy," he said. "The emotion of seeing the other homes, though, was instant sadness."
Amid the devastation in the foothills of Colorado Springs, there were hopeful signs. Flames advancing on the U.S. Air Force Academy were stopped and cooler conditions could help slow the fire.
As of midday Thursday, the fire was 10 percent contained. The cost of fighting the blaze had already reached $3.2 million.
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said the 346 estimate could change. A fire in northern Colorado, which is still burning, destroyed 257 homes and until Thursday was the most destructive in state history.
For now, Bach said, the news of the destruction would make it very difficult for the city about 60 miles south of Denver.
"This is going to be a tough evening, but we're going to get through it," Bach said.
Colorado Springs, the state's second-largest city, is home to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Air Force Space Command, which operates military satellites. They were not threatened.
Conditions were still too dicey to allow authorities to begin trying to figure out what sparked the blaze that has raged for much of the week and already burned more than 29 square miles.
President Barack Obama was to tour fire-stricken areas today as hundreds of locals and some tourists who were staying at Red Cross shelters hoped life would return to normal.
Bill and Lois Bartlett said they believe their neighborhood was spared, but remained wary as they waited at a YMCA shelter set up by the Red Cross.
"I've been through a lot of stuff like this before but not in civilian life," said Bill Bartlett, who flew B-17 bombers during World War II.
His wife, Lois, said the Red Cross bought them two special cots to make them more comfortable, but they still found staying at the shelter difficult. "You don't have any privacy. You can't look at TV and get the news," she said.