ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2012: President Barack Obama has arrived in Colorado Springs to tour the devastation of the Waldo Canyon Fire. Plumes of smoke from the mountains were visible as Air Force One landed.
Before leaving the airport, Obama spoke to Forest Service Incident Commander Rich Harvey. Harvey said Obama thanked him for the firefighters' hard work.
The Waldo Canyon Fire became the most destructive in state history Tuesday when it destroyed an estimated 346 homes.
The president toured the fire area, then met with firefighters and spoke briefly at Fire Station No. 9 at Garden of the Gods and Chestnut in Colorado Springs. He was accompanied by Mayor Steve Bach and Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Obama called the devastation "enormous," but said "we're starting to see progress."
The fire station was surrounded by road blocks and snipers were located on the roof during the presidential visit.
Obama shook firefighters' hands and posed for a group photo.
Obama pointed at three houses that were still standing amid the destruction. He asked a firefighter, "What did you guys do to protect these homes? Give me a sense of how you went about it?"
The firefighter described dousing the homes with water the decision to let some homes burn. "There was so much heat from that house, we couldn't protect that."
"I tell ya what, those families, you made a difference in their lives," the president said to firefighters.
The president's Motorcade also drove to the East YMCA on Jet Wing Drive. There, he spoke with Red Cross volunteers and shook the hands of evacuees.
"You guys are in our thoughts and prayers," he said. "The volunteers that are here, I want to thank you for all you do."
Thursday evening, Colorado announced that the White House had accepted a request from Colorado for an expedited disaster declaration. It will provide funding for crisis counseling, disaster unemployment assistance, public assistance for emergency work and a hazard mitigation grant program.