DENVER — President Obama surveyed Friday the damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, praising responders for their efforts and remarking on the enormity of the devastation.
“We have been putting everything we have into trying to deal with what’s one of the worst fires that we’ve seen here in Colorado,” said Mr. Obama in a press conference following a tour of the site. “It’s still early in the fire season, and we’ve still got a lot more work to do.”
At the same time, “because of the outstanding work that’s been done, because of not only the coordination but also some unprecedented arrangements made with the military resources combined with civilian resources, we’re starting to see progress,” he said.
The president was accompanied by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Doug Lamborn. Mr. Obama spent 2-1/2 hours speaking with officials and touring the aftermath of the destruction, which has left two dead and 347 homes destroyed on 34 city streets.
“Obvious as you saw in some of these subdivisions, the devastation is enormous,” said Mr. Obama.
Sixty miles away in Denver, the president received a far chillier reception at a last-minute rally by opponents of the Affordable Care Act.
Americans for Prosperity-Colorado threw together the event at the state capitol in the hours after the Supreme Court ruled the sweeping health-care law constitutional. About 300 people showed up in 100-degree heat, some carrying placards and wearing AFP-sponsored “Hands Off My Health Care” T-shirts.
Conservative speakers, including former Rep. Bob Beauprez and state Sen. Tim Neville, exhorted the crowd to defeat Mr. Obama and hold other elected officials accountable in the November election.
“This election just went from very, very important to absolutely critical,” said Mr. Beauprez. “We have a nominee, Mitt Romney, that we need to support.”
Jon Caldara, president of the free-market Independence Institute, stressed the significance of Colorado’s nine electoral votes in the presidential race. The swing state went for Mr. Obama in 2008, but Republican voter registration outstrips that of unaffiliated and Democratic registration.
“There’s only one way to stop what happened yesterday, and that’s through us,” said Mr. Caldara. “Every analysis shows that the road to the White House goes through this state. Here in Colorado, the future of the nation will be decided. We have to win Colorado.”
Americans for Prosperity announced Friday the launch of a $9 million ad campaign targeting the health-care act, also known as Obamacare. The television ads, entitled “Not a Tax?”, are running in 10 battleground states, including Colorado.
Mario Mendoza of Aurora, holding an anti-Obamacare sign, said he was discouraged by the Supreme Court’s vote.
“I’m pretty frustrated,” said Mr. Mendoza. “They [the Supreme Court justices] are now rewriting law. They’re bending over backwards to find it constitutional.”
Erich Feigel, chair of the Broomfield County Republicans, predicted that the court’s decision would reenergize conservative voters, much as the passage of the health-care act led to a banner Republican election year in 2010.
“The only way we can repeal this is to get control of the White House, the Senate and the House,” said Mr. Feigel. “Because of what happened yesterday, everybody is reawakened to the threat.”
In Colorado Springs, fire officials reported making significant progress in combating the Waldo Canyon inferno, saying that the blaze is now 15 percent contained. The fire, considered the most destructive in state history, has consumed 16,750 acres and forced the evacuation of 32,000 homes.
Rescuers found a second body Friday in a home in the Mountain Shadows subdivision. One person was found dead in a home in the subdivision Thursday.
The Waldo Canyon fire is by far the largest of nine wildfires now burning in Colorado. All eight of the Air Force’s C-130 cargo fleet have been mobilized to fight fires in Colorado, the first time the entire fleet has been activated at the same time since 2008.
“I think what you see here is an example of outstanding coordination and cooperation between federal, state and local agencies,” said Mr. Obama.