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Deadly Colorado wildfire now 65 percent contained: officials

An aerial view of a destroyed house in the aftermath of the Black Forest Fire in Black Forest, Colorado June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
An aerial view of a destroyed house in the aftermath of the Black Forest Fire in Black Forest, Colorado June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Authorities battling the deadly wildfire outside Colorado's second-largest city said on Sunday that firefighters were getting the upper hand on the blaze that ranks as the state's most destructive on record.

The so-called Black Forest Fire, smoldering on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, is 65 percent contained, incident commander Rich Harvey of the U.S. Forest Service said at a news conference.

Harvey said subsiding winds, cooler temperatures and some rain over the burn area have aided firefighting efforts over the last two days.

(There is) "not a lot of active flame," Harvey said.

Fire managers reduced the size of the fire from 15,500 acres to 14,198 acres due to more precise mapping.

Assessment teams increased the number of homes destroyed to 485, the highest property loss total from a wildfire on record in Colorado.

The fire broke out on Tuesday in the rolling hills northeast of Colorado Springs, and high winds stoked the flames that ripped through the heavily wooded residential area.

Two people were found dead in the garage of a burned home.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the two victims who perished "waited a little too long" before fleeing.

Some evacuation orders have been lifted in areas not touched by flames but residents of burned-out neighborhoods will not be allowed back in until crews have rendered the areas safe, he said.

Maketa said agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting local arson investigators in probing the cause of the fire, which he believes was started by people.

"This is a crime scene until proved otherwise," he said.

Harvey said the 1,100 firefighters on site are mopping up hot spots inside and maintaining the perimeter to prevent flames from spreading outside the 24-square mile burn area.

At one point, some 38,000 people were under evacuation orders. But authorities have lifted the orders in some areas as the threat of the fire spreading has eased.

The cost of battling the fire is assessed at $5.2 million.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)

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