Obama on Colorado wildfires: "Devastation is enormous"

President Barack Obama talks with firefighters as he tours the Mountain Shadow neighborhood devastated by wildfires, Friday, June 29, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

(CBS News) President Obama traveled to Colorado on Friday to see the impact of the wildfires that have swept through parts of the state. After his visit, he said "the devastation is enormous" but praised residents and government officials for "pulling together."

"We've got to make sure that we have each other's backs," the president said in Colorado Springs. "And that spirit is what you're seeing in terms of volunteers, in terms of firefighters, in terms of government officials. Everybody is pulling together to try to deal with this situation."

The Waldo Canyon fire has forced tens of thousands to evacuate an area south of Denver. At least one person has died and nearly 350 homes have been destroyed. Officials say 15 percent of the fire has been contained as of Friday morning.

During his visit, the president promised the federal government's support.

"I think what you see here is an example of outstanding coordination and cooperation between federal, state and local agencies. We have been putting everything we have in trying to deal with what's one of the worst fires that we've seen here in Colorado," he said. Mr. Obama declared a major disaster in the region Thursday, making federal funds available to fight the fires.

Added the president: "But because of the outstanding work that's been done, because of not only the coordination but also some unprecedented arrangements that have been made with military resources combined with the civil resources, we're starting to see progress."

Mr. Obama cautioned, though, that there is still there is still a long way to go before the fire is under control.

"Ultimately they're going to need a little bit of help from Mother Nature in order to fully extinguish these fires," he said.

Finally the president praised the firefighters for their "determination" and "professionalism."

"And they are genuine heroes. And so we want to just say thank you to all the folks who have been involved in this. We're proud of you," the president said. "And so for folks all around the country, I hope you are reminded of how important our fire departments are, our Forest Service is."

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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