Evacuees Warily Go Home in Colorado

The stench of rotting food in Robert Heib's mobile home forced him to sleep on the front porch Sunday night. But he didn't really mind -- it had been nearly two weeks since he'd seen his home at all, and it was nice to be back.

"Boy, did it smell," said Heib, who had fled as fire began to rage through central Colorado's wildland. "I didn't smell the smoke in the place until I got the fridge cleaned up."

Since June 8, Heib and his wife, Penni, had been forced to live on the fly -- with relatives and in motels -- as a fire that now covers 137,000 acres ran mostly unchecked, devouring 133 homes and hundreds of other structures.

As fire crews have begun to tame the blaze in recent days, thousands of the 8,500 people forced from their homes have returned.

Like many others, the Heibs tried to reclaim a sense of normalcy Monday. Food in refrigerators had to be dumped because the power failed. Mail had to be sorted, bills had to be paid.

Heib, a refrigerator repairman, fears work will drop off.

"Personally, we're going to be OK, but my business is going to suffer," he said.

Elaine Thannum and her husband, Rob Schultz, who have a 14-month-old son, Jake, kept their bags mostly packed. The families allowed to return to their homes over the weekend were told to be ready to leave again in case the fire flared up.

"We're not unpacking much, just the clothes and food, otherwise it will all just stay in the truck because we're still on standby," Thannum said.

The couple didn't waste time in clearing away the vegetation around their home -- potential fuel for flames should another blaze come their way.

Nearby, Lorraine Snydal and her husband, Rod, cleared away brush, picked up their mail and went grocery shopping. Snydal planned to rehang photos she grabbed from living room walls before leaving.

It's great to be home, she said. But she still feels on edge.

"I've never been so conscious of the weather, to see if we see smoke, which way the wind is blowing, and whether it's going to rain," she said.