US President Barack Obama has visited areas of the state of Colorado ravaged by wildfires. Firefighters are struggling to save homes and buildings from the continuing blazes.
On a three-hour tour of the region, Obama visited neighborhoods in Colorado devastated by the wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and left two people dead.
The White House said Obama made the trip to get a firsthand look at the damage done and to assess whether additional federal resources were necessary, after he earlier declared a "major disaster" in the state, thus releasing initial federal funds.
Obama praised the "courage and determination and professionalism" of the firefighters combating the blaze, calling them "genuine heroes." About half of all active federal wildfire-fighting resources are currently in Colorado, according to the White House.
The fires have destroyed at least 346 houses and forced some 36,000 residents to evacuate. They were still threatening some 20,000 homes and 160 commercial buildings in and around the state's second-largest city, Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springspolice chief Peter Carey announced a second death in the fires on Friday, after a first body was found late on Thursday. Both bodies, believed to be those of a husband and wife, were found in the same burnt-out house.
Authorities fear the death toll could rise, with a number of people already reported missing.
Fire officials say the fires are now 25 percent contained, up from 16 percent on Thursday, but had already burnt 6,380 hectares (17,073 acres) by late Friday.
It is not known what sparked the blaze, known as the Waldo Canyon Fire, but record high temperatures, low humidity and high winds have been fueling many fires across the American West.
tj/mz (AFP, AP, Reuters)