COLORADO SPRINGS — Mayor Steve Bach told a morning news conference, "we know hundreds of homes have been destroyed" by the Waldo Canyon Fire.
He said the city is in the process of assessing the areas where homes burned and plans to notify owners on an individual basis starting at noon Thursday. He said officials would be "methodical and careful" in notification.
Some 32,000 people remain out of their homes in and around Colorado Springs. An aerial photograph of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood taken Wednesday shows approximately 300 homes, all of them insidethe Colorado Springs city limits, reduced to charred rubble.
The fire started June 23 and has grown to 18,500 acres. The blaze's cause is not known, and the FBI has joined the investigation.
Lt. Jeff Kramer, an El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokesman, said Thursday the U.S. Forest Service is eager to get word from incident command so officials can get into the burn area and start the investigation. He says there is no indication of arson.
Firefighters had a containment line around about 5 percent of the burned area.
No additional structures were lost overnight Wednesday, and there are no changes to the mandatory evacuations. No injuries have been reported.
Officials say 20,085 homes and 160 commercial building are threatened and are in the fire's path. The cost to date of the fire is $3.2 million.
Fire officials said higher humidity levels, some rain and less winds helped firefighters on Wednesday.
"Yesterday was a good day to make some headway," said Jerri Marr, U.S. Forest Service supervisor.
Firefighters expect another good day of weather conditions Thursday and are eager to establish additional gaines in battling the blaze.
There's a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Thursday afternoon for the fire area, with winds gusting to about 15 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
The high temperature in Colorado Springs on Thursday will be in the lower 90s, but in the foothills and mountains west of the city high temps should be about 10 to 15 degrees cooler.
The amount of rainfall should be minimal Thursday, but humidity levels were above 30 percent Thursday morning, much higher than the single-digit readings that fueled the fire earlier this week.
U.S. 24 is closed from Cave of the Winds to the county line and will remain that way through the weekend. Garden of the Gods park, the Pikes Peak Highway and cog railroad and the Air Force Academy area all closed to visitors.
The communities of Cascade, Chipita Park Green Mountain Falls and Crystola are under mandatory evacuation orders, along with parts of northwest Colorado Springs, the Air Force Academy and unincorporated Teller County.
The Red Cross has set up evacuation centers at Lewis Palmer High School, 1300 Higby, Monument; Cheyenne Mountain High School, 1200 Cresta Road, Colorado Springs; Southeast YMCA , 2190 Jet Wing Drive, Colorado Springs; and Summit Elementary School, 490 Meadow Park Dr., Divide.
Incident commander Rich Harvey told the Thursday morning news conference that "yesterday was a good day" in fighting the fire. "We are going to be incredibly aggressive" on Thursday, he added.
More than 1,200 firefighters will be working the fire Thursday, Harvey said. There are 27 crews and 73 engines, along with helicopters and plane. Command is confident that the containment line will expand.
"We expect that (containment) figure to jump dramatically," Harvey said.
Harvey said that Blodgett Peak Open Space is burning and has the potential to be problematic, but firefighters are watching it.
"We have resources on this fire from an alphabet soup of agencies," he said. "Our resources have wheels, they have tracks, they have rotors, they have wings."