COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- President Barack Obama absorbed the devastation of Colorado's wildfires Friday, visiting a neighborhood struck by the flames and taking in the acrid smells of charred homes while plumes of smoke rose from the surrounding mountains.
After declaring a "major disaster" in the state and promising federal aid, Obama got a firsthand view of the fires and their toll on residential communities. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated in what is now the most destructive wildfire in state history.
"Whether it's fires in Colorado or flooding in the northern parts of Florida, when natural disasters like this hit, America comes together," Obama said after touring a neighborhood where the fire cut a path that left some homes standing while leveling surrounding properties. "We all recognize that there but for the grace of God go I. We've got to make sure that we have each others' backs."
Obama's appearance in Colorado took on added significance coming less than five months before the Nov. 6 presidential election. Colorado is a crucial swing state in the contest between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and the president's visit illustrated the enormous power of incumbency he enjoys to deliver not only assistance but to show compassion and command.
Stopping to greet firefighters and other first responders, Obama said: "The country is grateful for your work. The country's got your back."
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Meanwhile on Friday, firefighters went from one smoldering pile to another in search of bodies in the nearly 350 homes burned to the ground.
As crews on the front lines made slow but steady progress against the flames, police Chief Pete Carey said fewer than 10 people altogether were unaccounted for. The remains of one person were found Thursday in what was left standing of one home, and the body of a second person who lived there was found Friday.
The 26-square-mile blaze -- one of several wildfires burning out of control across the tinder-dry West -- was reported to be 15 percent contained, and authorities began lifting some of the evacuation orders.
The president's first view of the fires and the smoky mountains came as he flew into Colorado Springs aboard Air Force One. His motorcade then slowly made its way through the neighborhood of Mountain Shadows, passing the wreckage of dozens of burned homes.
He had special words for a group of firefighters who had just recently managed to save some houses in a subdivision attacked by the flames.
"They're genuine heroes," he said.