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Waldo Canyon Fire 25 Percent Contained, More Evacuations Lifted

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Waldo Canyon Fire (credit:  CBS)

Waldo Canyon Fire (credit: CBS)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4)- Fire crews continue to gain ground on the Waldo Canyon Fire burning in Colorado Springs. The fire was 25 percent contained on Friday afternoon and there had been no significant growth. More evacuations were lifted Friday at 8 p.m.

Some of the neighborhoods where people were allowed to go home include Cedar Heights and a portion of Rockrimmon. Garden of the Gods Park remains closed. There is no estimate on when it will reopen.

The City of Colorado Springs issued a map that shows the areas where the mandatory evacuation order remains in effect. The areas highlighted in orange remain under evacuation. Colorado Springs Map

There is no estimate on when homeowners will be allowed to return home although firefighters are working on getting the fire under control so everyone can return home. Firefighters saved 81 percent of the homes that were in the path of the fire that started last Saturday.

Those who are still out of their neighborhoods will be allowed to view the area by a bus tour starting on Sunday. About 4,000 people impacted by the Waldo Canyon Fire will be allowed to tour their neighborhood but it’s still too dangerous to allow them back on their own.

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach’s aide Steve Cox said in Friday’s 4 p.m. briefing that the bus tours will be divided up into streets and they can take about 30 people per bus. He also asked for patience in the aftermath of the fire.

The following areas were reopened to businesses and residents at about 9:30 a.m. Friday: Commerce Center Drive north from East Woodmen to Pine Creek Drive.

Thousands remain under mandatory evacuation including Cedar Heights, west of 30th Street from Gateway Road To Centennial, Pinon Valley, Mountain Shadows, Perregrine, Rockrimmon (northwest of Woodmen Drive/Rockrimmon Blvd. and Vindicator).

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown said the fire remains stubborn and that they’re using all the resources they have available, including help from Fort Carson.

Some residents at the Air Force Academy were allowed to return home at 5 a.m. Friday.

Two people were found dead inside a burned home. The remains of the second victim was found Friday afternoon in the same home where the first set of remains was found Thursday. Authorities are investigating the cause of death and have not released identities. They believe the deceased are spouses.

Less than 10 people remain unaccounted for in the Waldo Canyon Fire according to Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey.

The fire has burned 16,750 acres. It was previously estimated at more than 18,000 acres but that has been scaled back because of better mapping.

Fire crews were able to make some progress on the fire because of good weather conditions on Thursday. They said similar conditions on Friday helped them make some strides.

Incident Commander Rich Harvey said no perimeters were lost overnight and there were no other homes or structures burned. He is confident that there is a solid barrier along containment lines parallel to Highway 24 and there won’t be any spread over the highway.

The mop-up operations on the southeast edge of the fire has been successful but there is concern that crews cannot get to the pocket above Cave of the Winds. That area will be targeted in an aerial attack.

The gas was turned off for 4,300 homes to protect firefighters in Perregrine, Mountain Shadow, west of Centenial and Oak Valley Ranch. Some homeowners who are allowed to return may not have utilities right away but crews will be working to restore service as quickly as possible.

El Paso County Sheriff Jeff Kramer said the fire is human caused. The FBI and ATF are assisting with local authorities on the investigation.

RELATED STORY: Pres. Obama Tours Destruction Of Waldo Canyon Fire

President Obama declared a major disaster for Colorado Friday morning because of the wildfires burning in the state. The declaration will make federal assistance available for recovery efforts in Colorado Springs and across the state.

Obama met with several of the evacuees and fire crews during his visit to the Waldo Canyon Fire Friday afternoon.

The Forest Service mobilized the remaining four Department of Defense C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems on Friday. The airtankers will be available on Saturday to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Colorado and elsewhere. They will be based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., along with the four MAFFS that have already been mobilized. To date, the MAFFS aircraft have conducted 62 sorties, 53 air drops and dropped 138,400 gallons of retardant in the Rocky Mountain Region with a primary focus on the Waldo Canyon fire.

Those four C-130’s are in addition to the nineteen airtankers currently available nationally to combat fires. More than 10,400 personnel, more than 700 fire engines and more than 100 helicopters are also fighting wildfires around the U.S., supporting state and local efforts.

As part of heightened efforts, the Forest Service is today training an Army battalion at Fort Carson, located near Colorado Springs, Colo., to potentially serve as ground firefighters to boost the number of firefighters available for wildfire suppression throughout the nation. The training will involve one day of classroom training and one to two days of field training.

During the classroom training, soldiers will learn about wildfire suppression including fire behavior and fireline safety. During field training, soldiers will receive instruction in fire suppression methods and procedures. This effort will ensure there are additional resources available should the U.S. Forest Service require them.

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