Firefighters work on the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado in this June 26, 2012 handout photo. (Photo : REUTERS/Adam Drake/US Forest S)
More than six dozen homes or vehicles belonging to evacuees who fled Colorado's most destructive wildfire were plundered by thieves, police said Wednesday, renewing an offer of a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprits.
The looting of 37 homes and 28 vehicles occurred as thousands of residents were forced to evacuate after wind-stoked flames from the Waldo Canyon Fire roared into residential neighborhoods at the edge of Colorado Springs late last month, said police spokeswoman Barbara Miller.
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Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey has called the victimization of displaced residents unconscionable, and said last week an anonymous donor had put up the reward money.
The Waldo Canyon fire, which reduced 346 homes to ash, was the most destructive on record in Colorado, and has been blamed for the deaths of an elderly couple who perished inside their home. At one point more than 30,000 people within the city and surrounding area were under mandatory evacuation orders.
Earlier in the week, federal fire managers pronounced the 18,247-acre blaze, which burned mostly in the Pike National Forest, 100 percent contained.
Miller said that even with National Guard troops deployed to help police man checkpoints and enforce road blocks, determined thieves found a way to burglarize evacuated homes.
"Some of these subdivisions are very large and you just can't completely surround them," she said, adding that most of the vehicle break-ins took place at hotels where displaced residents had taken refuge.
Investigators probing the blaze have pinpointed the fire's point of origin, but have not identified a cause. A task force of local law enforcement and fire agencies, the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is conducting the investigation.