Politics

Obama in Colorado hails 'genuine heroes' fighting state's wildfire, promises federal resources

After surveying damage from raging wildfires in Colorado Springs, President Obama addressed firefighters and first responders promising all the resources the government has to offer.

“We have been putting everything we have into trying to deal with what's one of the worst fires that we've seen here in Colorado,” Obama said Friday.

He addressed firefighters, volunteers and forest service employees representing Colorado Springs, Denver and Pueblo, Colo. The first responders have been battling the Waldo Canyon Fire for weeks, many of them working 12-hour shifts around the clock.

Obama thanked them for their service and their courage, calling them “genuine heroes” who don’t always get the credit they deserve.

“And so, for folks all around the country, I hope you are reminded of how important our fire departments are, our Forest Service is," 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 you have to understand they're putting their lives at risk to save us and to help us. We've got to make sure that we remember that 365 days a year, not just when tragedies like this strike."

During his two-and-a-half hour visit to the region, Obama toured the Mountain Shadows residential neighborhood of Colorado Springs where fires had burned through the area 72 hours earlier. He later visited with evacuees and volunteers at a YMCA shelter operated by the Red Cross with support from Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, telling fire survivors, "I can only imagine how humbling it is to lose a home. But hopefully we can rebuild."

More than 30,000 people have been evacuated from the region, and early Friday the president declared a “major disaster” in the state. Even before arriving in Colorado Springs, Obama got a view of the fires aboard Air Force One. Reporters on the flight saw smoke for the last 45 minutes of their flight into the area.

But the president also saw hope.

“When natural disasters like this hit, America comes together,” Obama said, citing the spirit of volunteers and a community working together. “Everybody is pulling together,” he said.