COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4)– President Barack Obama toured some of the destruction caused by the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs Friday afternoon.
“All I want to do is just say thank you,” said Obama.
After the tour, Obama stopped at the City of Colorado Springs Fire Station Number 9 on Garden of the Gods Road.
Gathered in a parking lot outside the station were firefighters and first responders who have recently come off 12-hour shifts. This fire station is serving as the rallying point for the Colorado Springs firefighters battling the Waldo Canyon Fire. The president stood among a half-circle of about 40 firefighters and spoke for about two minutes.
“I think what you see here is outstanding cooperation and coordination from local state and federal agencies,” said Obama. “We have been putting everything we have into trying to deal with one of the worst fires that we’ve seen here in Colorado.”
Obama has been in contact with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Mayor Steve Bach of Colorado Springs, where the Waldo Canyon Fire has destroyed an estimated 346 homes, making it the most destructive Colorado blaze ever, and forced 30,000 people to flee.
“Obviously as you saw in some of these subdivisions the devastation is enormous,” said Obama. “We’ve got to make sure we have each others backs and that spirit is what we are seeing in terms of volunteers and firefighters, in terms of government officials. Everybody is pulling together to try to deal with this situation.
“We are not completely out of the woods yet. These folks, some of them have been working 18 hour days, 20 hour days trying to make sure these fires get put out.”
Fire crews have been making progress on the fire. It has not grown significantly in two days and was 25 percent contained on Friday afternoon. That containment was expected to grow by Friday evening.
Two people were confirmed dead in the fire. Their remains were found inside a home that had burned.
Obama said there was only so much the fire crews could do.
“Ultimately they are going to need some help from mother nature in order to fully extinguish these fires.
“We can provide all the resources, we can make sure they are all well coordinated, but as I just told these firefighters what we can’t do is to provide them with the courage, determination, professionalism, the heart that they show when they are out there battling these fires.”
The president also said firefighters are the true heroes in the fire alongside those who have lost their homes.
“When we had a chance on site to see some guys who had just saved three homes in a community that had been devastated for those families, the work and the sacrifice of those firefighters means the world to them and they are genuine heroes.
“We want to just say thank you to all the folks that have been involved in this, we are proud of you we appreciate what you do every day.”
After his comments, Obama walked around the circle, shaking hands and speaking with the firefighters.
Obama toured one neighborhood where nearly every home had burned to the ground. Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Rep. Doug Lamborn joined him on the walking tour.
“The strength, the resilience, the degree to which people are willing to work together… its a reminder of what’s the most important aspect of this country. That is its people and the way that we are willing to get each other’s backs,” said Obama.
The president remarked on how fickle the fire was when moving through the neighborhoods.
“What’s also tragic, is that you can have a house that’s perfectly fine on one side and another house that is completely destroyed on another,” said Obama.
Rich Harvey, the incident commander in charge of the firefighting effort, said fire managers coordinated with the White House to ensure Air Force One didn’t hinder helicopters and tankers dropping water and flame retardant.
El Paso County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Kramer said deputies worked with the Secret Service to provide security after police Chief Pete Carey said he couldn’t spare the officers.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican representing Colorado Springs, whose district includes the Waldo Canyon Fire, accompanied Obama aboard Air Force One and during Obama’s tour.