Colorado Sheriff: Wildfire Damage Like 'Nuclear Blast'

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COLORADO SPRINGS, CO Firefighters on the front lines of the most destructive fire in Colorado history continued to hold the massive blaze in check Saturday, as thousands of anxious residents waited to be allowed back to their homes.

Firefighting officials said about 45% of the fire just outside Colorado Springs had been contained by Saturday, up from 30% Friday. Additional evacuation orders weren't immediately lifted by 2 p.m.

Saturday, and law enforcement officials continued manning checkpoints around the blaze, which has destroyed nearly 500 homes.

"I'm seeing some very encouraging signs," El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said. "The good news is: We didn't lose any more land, and we did not lose any more structures."

Aided by a surprise rain shower and slower fire movement, crews have been able to increase containment of the blaze. That meant evacuation orders could be lifted for neighborhoods east, north, and west of the fire — areas where as many as 5,000 people are estimated to live, Maketa said.

On Friday, President Obama called Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to receive an update and offer his support, according to the White House. Obama also expressed his condolences for the families who lost a loved one.

After touring the affected areas Saturday, Maketa said he saw firefighters' progress but also said the wide destruction of the blaze appeared "as if a nuclear bomb had gone off in that area."

The blaze has killed two people, destroyed 473 homes and displaced tens of thousands of residents.

Maketa said Friday that investigators were trying to determine whether the fire was arson or an accident.

Deanna Ronco was among those who have lost their homes. Ronco's Black Forest home that she and her family lived in for 18 years was consumed by the flames. The odyssey began Tuesday afternoon, when Ronco got a call from emergency responders saying the family needed to leave right away.

Ronco started packing up for her five children but didn't bother packing anything sentimental — she thought they would be back. She remembers the odd sight of smoke blowing in front of the sun and the sky turning a red hue.

Two days later, Ronco learned from a friend who is a volunteer firefighter that her home was gone.

"It's kind of been a roller coaster since then, trying to get my kids taken care of so we can take care of logistics," said Ronco, 40. "The sad part is it's not even over, and we're not even the only ones that have been affected."

That night, she and her husband left their children with friends and got a hotel room for the night so they could grieve for their home. "It's a very surreal feeling," she said.