President Obama tours Waldo Canyon Fire devastation
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – President Barack Obama toured the Waldo Canyon Fire burn area in Colorado Springs Friday, praising the effort of firefighters who have been battling a relentless barrage of wildfires across the state.
“The devastation is enormous,” the President said after surveying damage in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood where 346 homes were lost. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families who have been affected.”
Obama credited the hard work of firefighters, who he called “genuine heroes,” for helping prevent more homes from burning to the ground in the 16,000-acre blaze.
“We can provide all the resources. We can make sure they’re well coordinated, but what we can’t do is provide (firefighters) with the courage and the determination and the professionalism…the heart that they show when they’re out there battling these fires.”
During his tour, the President’s motorcade traveled down Garden of the Gods Road, at one point passing two children holding a sign that read “Save Colorado.”
The motorcade then entered the burn area along Flying W Ranch Road past numerous homes which had been leveled by the wildfire, and then stopped at Majestic Drive where he stopped to speak with firefighters.
Afterward, the president visited the South East YMCA on Jet Wing Drive where a Red Cross evacuation shelter has been set up.
The small crowd of about 40 people inside the YMCA clapped and cheered as the President entered, and then crowded around him in the gym.
“You guys are in our thoughts and prayers,” Obama told them. “The volunteers who are here, I just want to thank you for everything you do. This is what America is all about. We don’t just look out for ourselves, we look out for each other.”
Denise Locke, whose family of five was evacuated from their home at the Air force Academy, came to the shelter to have lunch and heard the President was coming so they stayed.
“I think it’s awesome,” Locke said. “It means a lot to know we’re not just getting pushed by the wayside. He knows homes are lost and he’s just out here to say hey, I know homes are lost and we’re doing what we can to help.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, Congressman Doug Lamborn and Mayor Steve Bach joined the President while he was in Colorado Springs.
Bennet and Lamborn flew with Obama from Washington to Colorado Springs aboard Air Force One.
Lamborn, who likened the President’s policies to a “tar baby” last year and skipped his State of the Union address this past February, praised Obama after the visit.
“To know that we have national support from the President on down is reassuring,” Lamborn said. “I told him I appreciated his concern for Colorado Springs and for Colorado. I gave him a heartfelt, ‘Thank you,’ and he made some good points in his remarks to the firefighters that they were the real heroes in protecting life and property.”
Earlier this week, former Gov. Bill Owens criticized the President’s decision to visit the burn area, arguing that it would be a distraction from firefighting efforts.
But Lamborn and Bach, both Republicans, appreciated that President Obama took the time to come to Colorado.
“It was more than a photo op for him,” Bach said. “He clearly wanted to say to the people, the firefighters, ‘this matters and the country has your back.’ That means a lot.”
Prior to his visit, President Obama declared Colorado a federal disaster area, clearing the way for additional federal dollars to help the state battle wildfires and rebuild.
The declaration is for El Paso County and Larimer County, where the High Park Fire, the second largest in Colorado history, has been burning for weeks.
Also Friday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it will speed federal disaster assistance to Colorado and provide support to homeowners and low-income renters forced from their homes due to the ongoing High Park and Waldo Canyon wildfires.