President Obama traveled to Colorado Springs, CO on Friday, where devastating forest fires have displaced thousands of families, to survey the damage and praise the fire fighters and volunteers working to stop the blazes there.
Standing in front of a makeshift triage center at the city’s Fire Station Number 9, where he had just thanked a group of firefighters and officials, the president urged Americans to show solidarity with the victims of the destruction here and elsewhere in the country.
“Whether it's fires in Colorado or flooding in northern parts of Florida, when natural disasters like this hit, America comes together and we all recognize that there but for the grace of God go I. We've got to make sure we have each other's backs.”
He praised the bravery of the firefighters, noting in particular some he met who had just salvaged three homes, whose work “means the world” to the communities they’re helping.
“We can provide all the resources, we can make sure they're well-coordinated but as I just told these firefighters what we can't do is to provide them with the courage and determination and professionalism, the heart they show when they're out there battling these fires.”
The president also stressed the importance of firefighters in all communities, not just those in peril, seeming to make a subtle allusion to one of his chief jobs priorities -– preserving and hiring more state and local government employees, including firefighters.
“For folks all around country, I hope you are reminded of how important our fire departments are,” he said. “Sometimes they don't get the credit that they deserve until your house is burning down or your community is being threatened.”
“And we've got to make sure that we remember that 365 days a year,” he continued.
Shortly before he made his remarks, the president toured the Colorado Springs neighborhood of Mountain Shadows, where fires burned through a path that completely destroyed some homes while leaving adjacent houses untouched.
He passed half-melted children’s swing sets in backyards of razed homes and one charred frame of a small white Toyota sedan.
According to reporters traveling with the president, the air smelled like smoke.
He also visited a YMCA shelter housing evacuees, telling the few dozen people gathered there that he could “only imagine how humbling it is to lose a home” but that “everybody else in the country has Colorado Springs’ back.”
Obama got his first glimpse of the damage as he flew into Colorado Springs and over the still-evacuated Air Force Academy, when, aides say, he looked out and surveyed the scene. The smoke from the fires was evident to those aboard Air Force One. According to one observer, “a thin, hazy layer of gray blanked the sky as far as the eye could see.”
Before the president headed out to Colorado, he declared the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires a disaster. This move allows federal funds to be made available to state and local governments to aide in helping evacuees and fighting the fires which have been burning since early this month.
Yesterday, multiple federal agencies promised more air support and grants to help bring the fire, which has already claimed one life and left others missing, under control. This morning officials said the Waldo Canyon fire was 15 percent contained and had affected over 16,000 acres of land.