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Crews Close To Having A Handle On Waldo Canyon Fire

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Jerry Forte with Colorado Springs Utilities shows reporters a mangled gas meter Tuesday morning. (credit: CBS)

Jerry Forte with Colorado Springs Utilities shows reporters a mangled gas meter Tuesday morning. (credit: CBS)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – The Waldo Canyon Fire is now 70 percent and 331 evacuees will be allowed to go home Tuesday evening.

The most destructive wildfire in Colorado history has destroyed 346 homes and covers 17,920 acres.

Utility crews are working to restore power in areas where evacuees have been allowed to return and are asking homeowners not to turn on their own natural gas.

“We’ll be out there to check to make sure that everything is safe and turn your gas back on,” Jerry Forte with Colorado Springs Utilities explained at the Tuesday briefing.

The utility hopes to have all the power and gas restored to all the areas where people are returning or have returned by Thursday.

VIDEO: Watch Tuesday Morning’s Fire Briefing

He also said when crews got into the Mountain Shadow neighborhood, the damage was more severe than expected.

Forte illustrated his point by showing reporters a mangled gas meter. “This is what’s left of a gas meter, of one that we could find,” he said. “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of damage as we’ve been able to get in there. Unfortunately as our engineers looked at this, it’s actually going to take us a little longer to get all those areas back up.”

Colorado Springs Utilities has about 1,200 customers in the areas that will remain evacuated. In those areas, crews will work on the less severe damage before tackling those with more damage.

There are also 350 service lines that are open to the air. They must be cut, capped and repaired then filled with pressurized natural gas for 24 hours before those areas will be cleared for people to return home. That could take up to another week.

As for the firefighting efforts, Chad Olson with the incident management team said that work is in good shape. He told reporters the south, east and west flanks along Highway 24 to Rampart Reservoir are looking good.

The main area of concern right is the northern part of the fire.

“It’s real rough country so firefighters are having a hard time getting in there, getting access, ” Olson said. “We do have line in there but it’s not quite secure. We’re looking at a couple, three days before we feel really comfortable.”

“It’s looking really good, I think we’re looking tentatively out of the woods.”

The current estimated containment date is July 12.

There is still no word on what started the fire on June 23. Lt. Jeff Kramer with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department said a team headed by the U.S. Forest Service is investigating but he had not had an update on their timeline for any results including if they had actually been to the point of origin.

Colorado Springs fire officials also stressed the dangerous conditions that still exist and reminded everyone fireworks are illegal there.

The city has also canceled its professional display.

Chief Rich Brown also reminded residents about the ban on opening burning, which includes smoking outdoors.

“Just as early as yesterday you see people driving by flipping cigarette butts out the window,” he said. “It’s never okay to do that but right now it’s almost unconscionable.”

Not only can police ticket for illegal fireworks, captains and lieutenants with the fire department will be allowed to write those tickets as well.

There have been five minor injuries in the course of the firefight, most of them heat-related.

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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