(CNN) -- Calmer winds and lower temperatures Thursday could help firefighters battle a blaze that has devoured more than 18,000 acres and chased 36,000 people from their homes in Colorado Springs.
But the Waldo Canyon Fire is only 5% contained, and it could be mid-July before it is fully under control, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Still, Thursday brought some respite to crews that have been stymied by erratic winds fueling the flames.
Incident commander Rich Harvey said he expected a much larger percentage of the fire contained by the end of Thursday.
"We have the first break in the weather since we've been out here," he said. "We are learning as we fight this fire some of its tricks. And one of its tricks is to run down these hills that way. You can fool us once, maybe, but not twice."
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said officials were still assessing property losses, but "hundreds of homes have been destroyed." Aerial photos showed at least 300 charred homes in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs, The Denver Post reported.
The Waldo Canyon Fire captured attention because of its proximity to landmarks like Pikes Peak and the Air Force Academy, and also to Colorado Springs, a city of about 400,000, the state's second largest.
The Flying W Ranch, a Western-style tourist attraction in Colorado Springs, burned to the ground.
President Barack Obama will travel to the area Friday to survey the damage and thank responders battling the blaze, the White House said.
The Denver office of the FBI, meanwhile, has joined local authorities in investigating reports that an arsonist may have set the fire.
"It infuriates me and it just makes my blood boil," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said at the thought of arson. "It creates a physical reaction in me ... to think that there's someone out there, because they get some kick ... there's some joy that they get (from setting a fire)."
The forecast in the coming days will be somewhat kinder to firefighters.
Temperatures are expected to cool into the lower 90s with winds of no more than 10 mph -- a far cry from the 65-mph gusts Tuesday that whipped the flames through mountain canyons and past containment lines.
The scale of the fire is such that smoke blankets the sky 40 miles to the north, Castle Rock resident Heather Gardner said.
"It's just really devastating to see that landscape completely charred and people's homes lost," she said. "I pray for that community and the rescue workers involved in keeping everyone safe."
The inferno has been a challenge even for some of the country's top firefighters -- sometimes getting the best of them.
"We have rehearsed and practiced disasters," said Dave Rose, public information officer for El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs. "We have never seen one like this before."
Some rain did fall Wednesday on a separate fire burning near Boulder, according to the National Weather Service, but the extended forecast calls for no more than a slight chance of precipitation.
The bone-dry conditions may make the Fourth of July holiday less festive for many Coloradans. Fireworks displays in Jefferson and Douglas counties -- to the south and west of Denver -- have been canceled.
With tens of thousands of state residents out of their homes, the Denver Broncos pledged $50,000 to relief efforts for the wildfires.
"This is our home, and we need to do whatever we can to take care of our neighbors," team owner Pat Bowlen said. "If at all possible, I encourage our fans to help however they can in providing relief during this time of need."
The academy's powered flight, glider and parachuting operations have been called off since Saturday so that the U.S. Forest Service could use runways for helicopters fighting the fires along Colorado's Front Range, Van Winkle said.
The academy's Class of 2016 -- all 1,045 cadets -- is still scheduled to arrive Thursday, but officials are making contingency plans in case they have to report to a different location on the base.
Rose, the county information officer, said one in four callers to the joint information center are offering food for firefighters, shelter for displaced neighbors or to volunteer in some capacity.
"It is a somber resolve," he said. "There's no doubt that we have a grim reality that we have lost a number of structures. Our western border mountain vista has dramatically altered."
Colorado wildfires had consumed 181,426 acres by Wednesday afternoon, according to the Colorado Division of Emergency Management.
The largest of the fires was the High Park Fire, which began June 9 and has now consumed 87,284 acres, the U.S. Forest Service said. It was 75% contained late Wednesday. The total number of homes burned stood at 257. An estimated $33.5 million has been spent trying to contain the blaze.