COLORADO SPRINGS — From above, the destruction wrought by a raging Colorado wildfire becomes painfully clear: Rows and rows of houses — hundreds in all — were reduced to ashes even as some homes feet away survived.
While the aerial photos helped show the scope of one of the worst fires to hit the American West in decades, they did little to help residents ease their concerns about the fate of their property.
‘‘Naturally, we’re apprehensive and the spirit is down a little bit,’’ Bill Bartlett said outside a Red Cross shelter in Colorado Springs. He believes his neighborhood was spared, but couldn’t be sure.
Amid the devastation in the foothills west and north of the state’s second-largest city, there were hopeful signs. More than 120 soldiers helped stop flames advancing on the US Air Force Academy, and cooler conditions could help slow the spread of a fire that could become one of the most destructive in state history.
Authorities initially did not know the extent of the damage, saying it was difficult to assess because the fires and smoke were too intense. More than 30,000 people frantically packed up belongings Tuesday night as the flames swept through their neighborhoods.
Officials said Thursday they would notify them first before releasing more information.
Aerial photos and video from the Associated Press and the Denver Post showed widespread damage.
The city is also home to the US Olympic Training Center, NORAD, and the Air Force Space command, which operates military satellites. They were not threatened.
Conditions were still too dicey to allow authorities to begin trying to figure out what sparked the blaze that has raged for much of the week and already burned more than 29 square miles.
President Obama was to tour fire-stricken areas on Friday as hundreds of locals and some tourists who were staying at Red Cross shelters hoped life would return to normal soon. Many more stayed with friends and family.
Bret Waters, the city’s emergency management director, said officials know people displaced by the blazes face hardships but urged patience.
‘‘Being evacuated on the long-term is difficult. So as you prepare to evacuate, you need to think about, not just a day or two, but think a week or two weeks,’’ he said. “What would you do out of your home for two weeks?’’
The weather forecast offered some optimism for firefighters to make progress, with the temperature expected to reach into the mid-80s — about 5 degrees cooler than Wednesday — and humidity 15 to 20 percent, about 5 points higher. Winds were forecast to be 10 to 15 miles per hour. As of mid-day Thursday, the fire was only 5 percent contained.