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Waldo Canyon Fire Containment Expected By Middle Of July

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Smoke billows at sunrise from part of the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Smoke billows at sunrise from part of the Waldo Canyon fire on June 30, 2012 in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – Crews are bracing for erratic winds Monday afternoon as firefighters enter the tenth day fighting the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs.

The fire has burned 17,827 acres and destroyed 346 homes, making it the most destructive in Colorado history. Fire managers on Monday afternoon set an estimated full containment date of July 16. It is currently 55 percent contained.

Another small round of evacuations were lifted Monday with about 200 more homeowners allowed to go home.

Utility crews are in the evacuated areas restoring natural gas and power, although it could take several days to complete the process.

Crews are focused on strengthening the perimeter and eliminating hotspots and areas of heavy fuel, especially in the face of the forecast of thunderstorms and erratic winds.

“The good news is we do have those containment lines in place and we are going to be able to anchor from them and work our way into the black,” Great Basin National Incident Management Incident Commander Rich Harvey told reporters at the Monday morning briefing. “That’s generally a fairly safe zone for the firefighters to work from and it allows them an anchor point to work from if anything gets across the line to go after it from. The weather plays a factor, it’s erratic, we’re prepared for it and we’ll deal with it if it develops.”

Another area of concern has been an area of fire burning near Cave of the Winds in Williams Canyon. Steep terrain has made it hard to reach but a team from California got into the spot on the ground along with a crew from Minnesota yesterday. They were able to get that spot out.

Another area of concern is Devil’s Kitchen on the northeast part of the fire. That is being monitored from the air and is responsible for much of the smoke.

But the focus is on the perimeter to keep it from spreading.

“It has not moved. The only acreage we’re adding to this is the internal islands as they burn, we’re adding that acreage to the fire total. So perimeter growth, nothing, nothing,” Harvey said.

He said now the work goes to making that a perimeter line a containment line.

The investigation into the cause of the fire continues. Lt. Jeff Kramer with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said there is no new information to report.

“That investigative team including that specialist in cause and origin is on the ground and actively working their investigation,” Kramer said.

He said they would release any information as soon as they had it.

Also the Colorado Springs Utility said Monday it will not bill homeowners whose houses were destroyed for any utilities and will zero out their bills.

The utility is also looking the charges for people who were evacuated. If gas and electricity was turned off, those related day charges will also be eliminated.

The utility is also eliminating water bills for evacuated areas for the time people were out of their homes. That was an issue because some people left their sprinklers on as protection.

“I was up in Peregrine yesterday and saw very first-hand where some sprinklers were left on and houses were saved because of that,” said Jerry Forte with Colorado Springs Utilities.

Wildfire Resources

- Visit CBSDenver.com’s Wildfire Resources section.

- Read recent Wildfire stories.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

- See images from the most destructive wildfires (High Park Fire and Fourmile Fire) and largest wildfire (Hayman Fire) in Colorado history.

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