Firefighters survey one of the devastated neighborhoods. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)Click photo to view more photos.
With the worst wildfire in Colorado history more than half-contained, evacuation orders for most of the 35,000 people displaced by the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs were lifted late Sunday, and residents were allowed to return to their homes—or what's left of them.
"To find my mail in my mailbox, unscathed—it's just unreal," C.J. Moore, whose home was "reduced to ashes," told The Associated Press. "Bird baths are fine. Some of the foliage is fine."
The 17,659-acre, 28-square-mile blaze burned at least 346 homes, killed two people and devastated neighborhoods in Colorado Springs.
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"Cars were burned to nothing but charred metal, and only concrete remained of many homes," AP said. The fire skipped some houses and structures, but torched others.
Bill Simmons and his wife "returned to their tri-level, passive-solar stucco home and found no damage—just some ashes in the driveway."
"The water and electric's back on," Simmons told the news service. "We're feeling pretty sad for our neighbors and pretty lucky for ourselves."
"It's crazy," Simmons continued. "The house across the street is burned to the foundation and the other side of the street is untouched."
"I've seen pictures, but it didn't really impact me the way it did, turning into my driveway," Susan Solich told CNN. "My home was gone, it was imploded into the ground."
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"Oh, my God. This is my street?" Shauna Hoey told ABC News upon returning to her home, which was left "like a pitiful pile of rocks."
"It's kind of like the 'Twilight Zone,'" Solich said. "So many of our friends are gone, and they won't be back."
"Now we're beginning to look at how do we rebuild and begin the recovery," Gov. John Hickenlooper told CNN on Sunday. "But we also know that Mother Nature can be pretty fickle out there, so we're keeping ourselves very alert."
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About 3,000 residents remain under evacuation orders, officials said. But fire damage isn't the only concern for residents returning home.
"Bears and burglars posed further danger to homeowners who headed back to towns and cities after the fire," Reuters said.
El Paso County Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Kramer said the scent of trash left by the residents that fled "has become an attraction for bears."
There have been 24 reported burglaries of vacated homes, Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey said Sunday.
Cooler temperatures, higher humidity and some rain over the weekend helped the more than 1,500 firefighters battle the Waldo Canyon blaze. But according to the U.S. Forest Service, it could be weeks before the fire is fully contained.
The cause of the fire, one of 11 currently burning in the state, remains unknown.
President Barack Obama toured the devastation on Friday, and the FBI has joined agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local authorities in the investigation.
Fires are raging in other western states including Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and South Dakota, where a military C-130 air tanker crashed Sunday while fighting a wildfire there.
"After several years of relatively benign fire seasons, the West is headed into a hot, dry summer of potentially ferocious blazes like the ones that have scorched Colorado in recent weeks," the Los Angeles Times noted. "The wildfires that have already destroyed more than 700 homes and outbuildings along Colorado's Front Range and blackened hundreds of thousands of acres of New Mexico wilderness are not likely to be the season's last for one simple reason: drought."