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‘There but for the grace of God go I’

President Barack Obamtalks firefighters as he tours MountaShadow neighborhood devastated by raging wildfires Friday June 29 2012 Colorado Springs Colo.

President Barack Obama talks to firefighters as he tours the Mountain Shadow neighborhood devastated by raging wildfires, Friday, June 29, 2012, in, Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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Updated: August 1, 2012 6:18AM

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 early Friday 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 left some homes standing but leveled 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. The state is a crucial bellwether 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.” He later stopped at a YMCA shelter, where he was greeted with cheers and told volunteers “you guys are making us proud.”

Obama spent a swift three hours in Colorado Springs, meeting only a handful of evacuees from fire-affected or threatened neighborhoods. The trip offered images of the president inspecting charred remains of a neighborhood but presented few opportunities for emotion-packed moments. Most of his time was spent with firefighters, or walking with state and local officials through evacuated neighborhoods. AP

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