(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) — Reflecting on the devastation caused by the Colorado wildfires, President Obama said Friday that when natural disasters strike, “America comes together.”
“We all recognize that ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ — we’ve got to make sure that we have each other’s backs,” the president said in Colorado Springs after seeing firsthand the damage caused by the worst wildfire in the state’s history.
The fires have ravaged the area, consuming more than 340 homes and forcing over 32,000 residents to evacuate. “The devastation is enormous,” Obama said.
The president first visited a neighborhood where many of the homes have been burned to the ground. Driving through the Mountain Shadows subdivision, the president passed half-melted children’s swing sets and the charred remains of family vehicles as plumes of smoke rose above the nearby mountains.
While some houses were unrecognizable others remained completely unscathed.
“You have a house that’s cinders. Next to it, it’s untouched,” the president noted as he talked with firefighters picking through the rubble of smoldering homes.
“This community is obviously heartbroken,” he said, before offering his prayers to the families.
In brief remarks, the president praised what he described as “outstanding coordination and cooperation between federal, state and local agencies.”
“We can make sure that they’re well-coordinated. But as I just told these firefighters, what we can’t do is to provide them with the courage and the determination and the professionalism, the heart that they show when they’re out there battling these fires,” he said. “They are genuine heroes.”
In addition to thanking firefighters and first responders, the president also met with evacuees during his roughly three hours on the ground in Colorado.
Visiting a YMCA shelter, the president said he could “only imagine how humbling it is to lose a home.”
He told the families that “everyone all across the country has Colorado Springs’ back.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Debra Goldschmidt, CNN
Sandra Gonzalez, CNN
Emanuella Grinberg and Kwegyirba Croffie, CNN