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DENVER (AP) -- Two people found dead in a home burned in the most destructive fire in Colorado history were a couple in their 70s, Colorado Springs police confirmed Thursday. Authorities also said Thursday that they know where the Waldo Canyon blaze started.
Coroner's officials identified the victims as William Everett, 74, and his wife, Barbara Everett, 73, police said. The two died in the Waldo Canyon fire, which has burned about 28 square miles and has damaged or destroyed almost 350 homes since it started June 23.
Many residents who fled the fire have been allowed to return home, and Colorado Springs officials were lifting evacuation orders for 126 more homes Thursday evening. Fire managers hope to have the fire fully contained Friday.
AP Photo/Ed Andrieski
A member of the Colorado National Guard stands watch at a road block leading to homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The homes in the background are among the 346 homes that were destroyed by the Waldo Canyon wildfire.
Also in Colorado, crews expect to have the Waldo Canyon fire, the state's most destructive wildfire, fully contained by Friday, two days earlier than expected. While authorities say they know where the fire started they haven't disclosed where that is or what they think caused the fire.
In western Colorado, firefighters were battling a new wildfire near De Beque that was sparked by lightning and reported Wednesday. It's burning on about 150 acres on Bureau of Land Management property on Kimball Mountain. Recent rain has helped calm the 38-square-mile Little Sand blaze that's been burning for nearly two months near Pagosa Springs. Near Mancos, the 15-square-mile Weber fire is 90 percent contained and should be fully contained Friday
Meanwhile, as firefighters battling enormous wildfires up and down the Rocky Mountain region were hopeful that predicted severe thunderstorms might drop buckets of rain and help their hard work of scraping lines of defense across rugged landscapes.
They remained wary of the possibility Thursday that storm cells too small and feeble to dump much rain could make their work tougher, not
AP Photo/Laramie Boomerang, Andy Carpenean
A sudden wind shift draws smoke back over the top of Sheep Mountain as the Squirrel Creek fire spreads near Woods Landing, Wyo.
"If it brings moisture, it's a good thing. If it doesn't, it can bring conditions that aren't favorable including high winds again and potential for lighting strikes," said Mary Bean, firefighter spokeswoman at a vast fire perilously close to Newcastle, a town of about 3,500 not far from the Black Hills in northeast Wyoming.
About 25 families remained evacuated from the outskirts of Newcastle since the Oil Creek fire flared up Tuesday night. The fire had burned 95 square miles of grass, sage, juniper and ponderosa pine just northwest of town.
For a time, the fire evacuated 425 people from an area that included Osage, population 200 and 10 miles up the road from Newcastle. Firefighters made major progress on Independence Day and those people were allowed to return.
In southeast Wyoming, firefighters hoped to allow more people to return to dozens of evacuated summer cabins near the Colorado line in Medicine Bow National Forest.
"We really knocked it for a change, instead of us getting whacked," said Larry Helmerick, spokesman at the nearly 16-square-mile Squirrel
AP Photo/The Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer
Rocky Boy crew No. 1 squad boss William Parker, right, pulls swamper K.C. Bigbear up a slope as sawyer Everette Eagleman prepares to cut down a tree while battling the Ash Creek Fire near Ashland, Mont.
Heavy air power, including four large air tankers, helped increase containment of the fire above 50 percent for the first time. The tankers included two military C130s from a fleet that was reduced to seven Monday when one crashed in the Black Hills.
The crash killed four of the six North Carolina Air National Guard crew members.
Firefighters also reported progress on a 145-square-mile fire surrounding Laramie Peak about 100 miles northwest of Cheyenne. The Arapaho fire had a wide-reaching effect despite being remote: Winds from the northwest blew thick smoke into Cheyenne and Denver on Wednesday.
The air cleared somewhat Thursday but a smoky haze remained.
The region's biggest fire had burned almost 400 square miles of ranchland in southeast Montana. The Ash Creek fire continued to threaten some ranches and homes near Ashland, Mont., but firefighters hoped to get rain on a total of five fires in the area.
The National Weather Service predicted severe weather from southwest Colorado to the plains of eastern Wyoming and Montana, with a chance of thunderstorms elsewhere.
- Montana: Fire officials looked forward Thursday to the chance of heavy rain as they continue to battle five large southeastern Montana wildfires that have been combined into one 470-square mile complex of fires so managers can more efficiently manage resources. In total, fire managers had 1,328 people on hand fighting the Southeastern Montana Complex of fires
- Nebraska: Fire officials say a blaze that burned 1,043 acres of the Nebraska National Forest is now fully contained..The entire Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands remains under fire restriction orders, and fireworks are not allowed anywhere on National Forest System lands.
- Virginia: More than 55 percent of a wildfire in Shenandoah National Park in Page County has been contained. The U.S. Forest Service says the Neighborhood Mountain fire has burned 2,163 acres since it was sparked by lightning on June 26. The fire is expected to be fully contained by July 15.
- Arkansas: The state now has 73 of its 75 counties under burn bans. The Arkansas Forestry Commission has listed the entire state as at extreme risk of wildfires. The U.S. Drought Monitor updated its Arkansas figures on Thursday and shows 36 percent of the state in extreme drought, which is up 4 percentage points from last week. Most of the rest of the state is in severe drought.