Waldo Canyon fire

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Waldo Canyon fire
Waldo Canyon fire
The fire moving towards the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs.
Location El Paso and Teller counties, Colorado, including Colorado Springs, Cascade, Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls, Crystola, Manitou Springs, and The United States Air Force Academy, Colorado.
Date(s) June 23, 2012 - July 10, 2012
Burned area 18,247 acres (28.511 sq mi; 73.84 km2)[1]
Ignition source Human-caused (intent unknown)
Land use Forest, rural, urban
Buildings destroyed 346[2]
Injuries (non-fatal) At least 6
Fatalities 2

The Waldo Canyon fire was a forest fire that started approximately four miles (6.4 km) northwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado on June 23, 2012. It was declared 100 percent contained on July 10, 2012 after no smoke plumes were visible on a small portion of the containment line on Blodgett Peak. The fire was active in the Pike National Forest and adjoining areas, covering a total of 18,247 acres (29 sq mi; 74 km2).[1] The fire had caused the evacuation of over 32,000 residents of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Woodland Park, several small mountain communities along the southwestern side of Highway 24, and partial evacuation of the United States Air Force Academy.[3][4] 346 homes were destroyed by the fire.[5] U.S. Highway 24, a major east-west road, was closed in both directions.[6] The Waldo Canyon Fire resulted in insurance claims totaling more than US $453.7 million.[7] It was the most destructive fire in Colorado state history, as measured by the number of homes destroyed, until the Black Forest fire surpassed it almost a year later, consuming 511 homes and damaging 28 others.[8][9]

June 23[edit]

On Saturday June 23, 2012, a jogger in the Waldo Canyon area around 7 a.m. smelled smoke. The jogger was one of the first to encounter the active fire - about 100 feet by 100 feet in size, and growing as it smoldered through dry fuel. As soon as the jogger got cell phone reception about 45 minutes later, he called authorities. Unfortunately, the man's name, number and exact location went unrecorded by dispatch, and the sheriff's office and fire investigators did not know about the call until days later. The dispatcher had been briefed about the June 22 smoke investigation - dubbed the Pyramid Mountain Fire - and assumed that all smoke-related calls fit under that umbrella. 'Pueblo Forest Service checked on that last night. They said they would be sending up another unit first thing this morning to check on it, but they are aware of it and they will be up there shortly this morning,' the dispatcher told the jogger before hanging up. It is likely that the jogger and the fire crews were in the forest at the same time. But the jogger had found something the crews had not: actual fire.[10]

June 23, 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, seen from Mesa Rd at Fillmore St.

Around noon, residents from multiple communities of Colorado Springs reported smoke originating from hills just north of U.S. Highway 24. Half an hour later, the city confirmed a localized brush fire in a valley just south of Rampart Range Road. Three cyclists on Rampart Range road reported the growing fire just a few minutes after the city confirmed the fire's existence.[11] As the fire spread, police forces issued a mandatory evacuation to residents in the Cedar Heights neighborhood and to hikers in the surrounding area.[12] Due to wide public interest, various agencies held a preliminary media briefing at 1:45 p.m. Erratic winds caused the fire to spread rapidly in the northwest and south directions. As the fire grew to 600 acres by 3 p.m., the towns of Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls, and Cascade, Colorado were put under voluntary evacuations.[13] Planes dropped retardant slurry on what they believed was the Pyramid Mountain Fire (which was a small < 20 acre fire in the same area the night before). Voluntary evacuations were placed for residents living west of 30th Street from Gateway to Chuckwagon Road, and the neighborhood of lower Mountain Shadows. Fifty police officers helped firefighters carry out a smooth three-hour evacuation in the area.[14]

By 4 p.m., the fire had intensified, and officials confirmed the name to be the Waldo Canyon Fire. Standby evacuations were declared for Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls, and Cascade. A total of 70 fire trucks were recruited to the burn area. A staging area for firefighters was set up at 31st St. and Colorado Avenue, and the CSFD mobile command unit was activated. Officials were told to open the city's emergency operations center. Flames were seen to occasionally reach 150 feet above the treetops. One of Cedar Heights' task forces was sent to the Queens Canyon area, including the historic Glen Eyrie estate, where firefighters removed flammable materials and otherwise mitigated fire risks. A third task force of two engines and two brush trucks was sent to lower Mountain Shadows. The deployments quickly tapped out the department, prompting the city to ask fire departments from Stratmoor Hills, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Cimarron Hills and Peterson Air Force Base to fill four city stations. Three more were left empty. Colorado Springs Utilities' Catamount Wildland Fire Team, meanwhile, began to cut a firebreak above Cedar Heights, an effort that would continue in the following days.[15] The neighborhoods of Peregrine, Oak Hills, Discovery, Raven Hills, and unincorporated Woodmen Valley were placed under voluntary evacuations around 6 p.m., and Reverse 911 calls successfully went out to residents in those communities.

Meanwhile, the Norris-Penrose Equestrian Center provided shelter for the trailers filled with evacuated horses including those from the Academy Riding Stables in Garden of the Gods, Flying W Ranch, Dreamcatchers Equine Rescue, and Rockledge Ranch. As quickly as trailers pulled in and were unloaded, volunteer workers snapped numbered bands around each horse's neck while others took down the owners' names and phone numbers. An identifying photo of each horse and owner was taken and all the information was posted on that horse's stall in one of the three barns. Owners were informed that they would be responsible for cleaning up their horses' stalls and they would need water buckets. Grateful owners, a number of whom said they would return several times during the night, had no problem with the rules.[16]

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach declared the fire a Type 1 incident, the highest possible level that signifies intensity. As the evening and night passed, the fire spread to 2,000 acres. Colorado Springs Sheriff Terry Maketa reported that around 2,000 to 2,300 people had been displaced, 650 firefighters were on scene, and around 1,000 homes were evacuated. At 11:30 p.m., evacuations began for the town of Manitou Springs. US 24 remained open despite signs that the fire was moving south towards the highway.

June 24[edit]

By early Sunday morning, firefighters were protecting the community of Cedar Heights from the oncoming blaze. Mandatory evacuations were placed for the residents of Manitou Springs and Crystal Park, bringing the number of evacuees to 7,000. Later in the morning, around 7 a.m., residents in the towns of Green Mountain Falls, Cascade, and Chipita Park were ordered to start a mandatory evacuation. The Pikes Peak Highway and Garden of the Gods closed to all staff and tourists.

At 11 a.m., US 24 was closed from 31st Street to Crystola. One helicopter, with four on order, two heavy air tankers, and two single-engine air tankers joined the fight by spreading retardant slurry around nearby structures in the Cedar Heights neighborhood and southern edge of the fire. Discussion started about whether to tap into federal funds, and the US Air Force confirmed that two US Air Force Reserve C-130s equipped with MAFFSs (Modular Airborne FireFighting System) would be fighting the fire on Monday. Weather predictions showed hot and dry winds that would help accelerate the fire's spread for the next couple of days. Around 3 p.m., reports arrived that suggested flames were approaching US 24 near Cascade. (The flames would actually destroy smaller trees within 50 feet of the northeast side of US 24 between Cascade and Chipita Park.) Firefighters concentrated the effort on holding the fire north of US 24 and preventing it from spreading south into urban areas. Erratic winds drove the fire east into the outskirts of the Cedar Heights neighborhood, threatening multiple houses. The winds shifted again, slowing the fire's progress into Cedar Heights. The city and county issued disaster declarations.

Throughout the evening, multiple smaller communities in the Garden of the Gods region were evacuated. The fire showed signs of spreading in three new directions: northeast towards Cedar Heights, northwest towards Green Mountain Falls, and south towards Manitou Springs. Eleven thousand people had been evacuated up to this point, and multiple businesses and organizations were closed or canceled events. Shelters were set up for evacuees in Cheyenne Mountain High School District 12 and donation programs were opened. (The Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross would also be able to use Lewis-Palmer School District 38, Woodland Park School District RE-2, and Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1 for evacuations. The Cheyenne District had signed a shelter agreement with the Red Cross several years earlier and now had several students and alumni schedule some 300 volunteers to assist with the many chores.)[17] Ten police officers and two sergeants returned to lower Mountain Shadows to complete "double checks." They worked methodically from top to bottom in Cedar Heights, knocking on doors. At 8 p.m., mandatory evacuations were lifted for Manitou Springs but remained for the town of Crystal Falls. The fire was not under any type of containment, but firefighters had been diligent in controlling the flames north of US 24.

June 25[edit]

The fire line was held at Cedar Heights overnight, but the fire crossed Rampart Range road due to a flaming deer that leaped across and died against a house, lighting it on fire. While firefighters went to put out the burning structure, the fire jumped and traveled into Queens Canyon. Fire officials were very worried as the National Weather Service predicted high winds, low humidity, and hot weather for the next few days. Steep topography, dry fuel, and hot conditions enabled the fast spread of fire. Embers were carried by the wind to a distance of up to a quarter mile away and caused multiple small spot fires to burn brush and low vegetation. The fire spread dangerously close to homes in Cedar Heights, but no structures were lost. The US Air Force Academy closed multiple mountain trails on Blodgett Peak, and the Bureau of Land Management issued campfire restrictions and banned campfires across 21 other Colorado counties. Firefighters successfully arrived near the Flying W Ranch and continued into Queens Canyon. Unfortunately, the topography of the region allowed only slow progression for effective fire fighting from the ground. Around noon, two C-130 aircraft from the 302nd Airlift Wing at nearby Peterson Air Force Base[18] and two from the 153rd Airlift Wing in Wyoming were made available for their first air dump of retardant near the Queens Canyon area.[19]

By 3 p.m. infrared imaging confirmed the fire had spread to 3,446 acres, although signs of containment had appeared. At a press conference at 5 p.m., the city confirmed the fire was held at 5 percent containment. Due to the weather conditions, spread of the fire into the Mountain Shadows area seemed imminent. Firefighters set up anchor points, drop lines, and safety zones to stop the fire from advancing into Green Mountain Falls and eastward into Colorado Springs. Mayor Steve Bach appeared on CNN to state that at that point Colorado Springs was under no danger and businesses were open. At 7 p.m., community meetings for evacuated residents and current residents living in western Colorado Springs took place. Sheriff Terry Maketa believed the fire had no relation to a rash of arson fires in Teller County. Patrols would take place in evacuated areas to catch looters. The fire had reached a size of 4,500 acres, 5 percent containment, and 4,825 people had been evacuated. It was estimated that the fire would reach complete containment by July 16. Plans were made to continue containment within Queens Canyon, north of US 24, and north around Palmer Reservoir and Eagle Lake Camp. By midnight, spot fires were visible from downtown Colorado Springs, and multiple air drops were scheduled for a containment line in Queens Canyon and along US 24.

June 26[edit]

Smoke cloud from the Waldo Canyon fire on June 26, 2012

After years of warnings, three days of fire nearby, and conspicuous signals of impending disaster, the city was not as prepared as possible that day. Although CSFD had up to 23 Fire Engines and Crews assigned to Cedar Heights (183 homes) during the first three days of the fire, only 4 Engines and Crews were allowed by CSFD (per the orders of the Mayor in charge) to be in the Mountain Shadows area (over 1,400 homes) up through the time of the actual fire moving into the Mountain Shadows homes. At 6 a.m. type 1 fire teams gave a briefing at the Incident Command Post at Holmes Middle School. The Fire Behavior Analyst warned that the day's conditions would be exactly the same as those of June 9, 2002 when the notorious Hayman Fire made a 60,000-acre run north of Lake George in the same Pike National Forest. Firefighters in Colorado Springs were warned to expect a "red flag" day with gusty winds, thunderstorms, and a growing pyrocumulus cloud. In all of the briefings it was reported that if the fire crossed Queens Canyon, it would be disastrous. At 10:52 a.m. a news release was issued by the city Mayor, however, evacuees were told that they could return to their homes for a half-hour. (The plan had been signed off on the night before by the police who would be responsible for checking those residents back into lower Mountain Shadows.) Forty minutes later, the order was rescinded due to "current changes in fire behavior."[15]

On June 26, 2012, Colorado Springs experienced a record high temperature of 101 °F (38 °C), which aided the fire's rapid expansion. By 3:45 p.m. strong winds following a dry thunderstorm west of the blaze caused the fire to jump the containment line on Rampart Range Road and enter into Queen's Canyon. At 4:21 p.m., smoke billowed in the distance and Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach interrupted a news conference with an evacuation order. The fire crested Queen's Canyon and winds from the west nearing 65 mph gusts (the cyclonic winds of the collapsing pyrocumulus cloud from the fire storm) pushed the fire down the slope and into the Mountain Shadows, Oak Valley Ranch, and Peregrine neighborhoods. By late afternoon and evening, multiple structures were burned including the Flying W Ranch, a Colorado Springs landmark built in 1953. Within the time span of twelve hours, 346 homes in western Colorado Springs had burned to the ground, and hundreds more were reported as damaged by fire and smoke.[20][21]

The City of Colorado Springs began evacuating the northwest side of the city in the evening hours. The bright orange and red glow of the flames were visible in the foothills to the west. Sixty on-duty police officers raced to carry out a plan that had been devised just hours before. Officers were to work from west to east, "ensuring that no structures have been overlooked or missed being contacted." Starting at 4:45 p.m. fire apparatus raced to the subdivision from miles away in the city. As they started arriving, they encountered roads jammed with 26,000 evacuees. Some firefighters were diverted to help them. They received orders to pull back—the pyrocumulus cloud had collapsed and pushed the fire "much more rapidly into the City than the [city's] fire behavior models had predicted." The air in Colorado Springs was filled with brown smoke from the fire, and falling ash was reported throughout the city in the late afternoon into the evening hours.

The evacuation plan had been drafted only that morning, and was enacted minutes before the first homes burned. Local firefighters found themselves outgunned, and much of the help from other fire departments was nowhere close. The chief staging area had not been properly set up and equipped until houses were ablaze, and they did not have a mobile command post until eight hours into Tuesday's firefight. Communication between firefighters was reported to be poor. Many were not told exactly what to do and, at times, did not know who was in charge. Not until 4:11 p.m. did city officials seek help from Denver fire departments, some of which were already working on the fire. At 5:21 p.m., El Paso County put out an all-county page for extra resources for the city; units came from Fountain, Calhan, Stratmoor Hills, Fort Carson, Black Forest, Security, Pueblo, Tri-County and Ellicott. When additional resources did arrive, some were idled even as personnel amid the firestorm begged for help.

Firefighters re-entered the subdivision at roughly 6 p.m. A CSFD logistics base, the department's only source for supplies, was moved twice before being set up at Coronado High School. An unknown party then announced that "Staging is at Station 9," about three miles to the northeast. The Captain from the logistics base went to Station 9, and plans were quickly sketched out for how to manage the arrival of 150 firefighters and dozens of engines flooding in from surrounding areas and other Colorado Springs stations. The neighboring commercial parking lot was occupied and a medical area was established. Two city medical units with the American Medical Response were coordinated to evacuate Mount St. Francis Nursing Center. It was made sure that the city had emergency medical coverage, that Station 9's medical/rehab unit was staffed to evaluate firefighters for fatigue, illness and injuries, and that the mass casualty trailer was retrieved from Station 19. Reports say that some firefighters slept on the asphalt at Station 9 until quarters could be secured at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) dormitories on Thursday, June 28.

All westbound traffic from I-25 was blocked from the exits of Woodmen Road south to Fillmore Street. Colorado Springs Police (CSPD) had closed westbound Garden Of The Gods Road at I-25, northbound 30th at Fontmore, and Fillmore/Fontmore at Mesa were also blocked by CSPD.

For approximately twelve hours, southbound I-25 was shut down at the Colorado Springs city-limit.

June 27[edit]

At 2 a.m. the morning of Wednesday, June 27, Jamie Gaynor, DVM, MS, EMT, was activated by the Colorado Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps. Animals evacuated by the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs were quickly arriving at shelters in need of attention. Members of the staff had been evacuated from their homes. Gaynor's practice was located west of the wildfire. Gaynor was caring for evacuated animals and creating the clinic's evacuation plan. He was cautiously confident the fire would not reach the clinic, despite its location within the danger zone. The practice had been inundated with smoke for the past two days. Although most of his clients had canceled their appointments, the clinic housed eight hospitalized patients and five dogs that had been evacuated in their care. In the meantime, animals were showing up at area shelters with smoke-related symptoms, which Gaynor was helping to treat. "At least 30,000 people have been evacuated, which means there are a lot of animals involved." There was a lot of coughing, sneezing, respiratory and ocular issues in the pets he was treating, including smoke-triggered asthma in cats. In addition to physical effects, Gaynor says he saw an emotional impact on the animals as well. "What's interesting between my own patients and the evacuees is a certain level of anxiety," he said. "They can smell the smoke and their natural reaction is to exit that smoke." His team was experiencing a certain level of anxiety, too. Some had already been evacuated from their homes. And everyone was bracing for possible evacuation of the clinic—either voluntary if conditions worsened or mandatory if the fire continued to blaze east. "We can be out of this facility with patients in 30 minutes or less," Gaynor said. "Even if we have to evacuate we know where we'll set up our ICU. The south office is six miles from here--really in no danger zone." (The clinic survived unscathed.)[22]

Helicopter dropping water on the fire

A firefighter with the Denver Fire Department and a USGS aerial survey team estimated by photographic topography that 300 or more homes had burned to the ground.[23] The fire prompted another mandatory evacuation of Crystola and parts of Woodland Park in Teller County. An estimated 20,000 additional residents were issued pre-evacuation notices from North of Air Force Academy to southwestern Douglas County, with the towns of Palmer Lake and Monument being a part of the pre-evacuation area as well. Everything west of I-25, south of Noe Road in Douglas County, and east of Rampart Range Road was on standby to be evacuated should the fire continue to spread.[24]

The Vandenberg Air Force Base Hot Shots arrived in Colorado Springs to help fight the fire. The specialized team is the only of its kind in the DoD.[25] City firefighters leading efforts on the ground that night readily admitted that the fire could have charged further eastward for miles had it not been for the unanticipated arrival of the hot shots crews. One Company Officer expressed "safety concerns" after he worked a 36-hour shift starting at 7 a.m. that morning, during which he oversaw twelve different crews on six apparatus. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries, and 52 firefighters were sent home due to fatigue.[15] At the height of the fire, 1,500 firefighters stayed at the Holmes Middle School campus. Some days, more than 300 grateful people lined up to welcome them back after their shifts.[26]

June 28[edit]

Aurora (Colorado) Police Department helping CSPD evacuation lines in Colorado Springs on 2012 June 28

On Thursday, June 28, Mayor Steve Bach confirmed that 346 homes in the Colorado Springs area had been destroyed by the Waldo Canyon Wildfire, making it the most destructive fire in the State's history.

Later that same night, it was announced that one person was killed and that one was injured due to the Waldo Canyon Wildfire.[2] The cause of the Waldo Canyon Wildfire remained to be unsolved and still under investigation.

The Pikes Peak Community Foundation created The Waldo Canyon Fire Fighter’s Fund to support the efforts of public and volunteer fire departments in El Paso and Teller Counties. This fund was designated to provide financial resources for the fire departments who worked on this effort by supporting any needs that arose, from food and cots to firefighting equipment as well as future wildfire mitigation efforts in the Pikes Peak region.[27]

June 29[edit]

During a two-and-a-half hour visit, President Barack Obama toured the Mountain Shadows neighborhood and made a stop at Fire Station 9 to thank firefighters. He then visited the American Red Cross evacuation shelter at Southeast YMCA Family Center (on Astrozon Blvd.) to meet with volunteers and evacuees.[28]

Memorial Health System (MHS) physicians and nurses treated patients at their emergency department with breathing problems from the heavy smoke in the area - including young children. University of Colorado Health (UCHealth) and Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora offered donations, supplies and medical staff to assist in treating patients. Volunteers were also available to assist in the City of Colorado Springs’ emergency command center.[29]

It was reported that there were two fatalities as a result of the Waldo Canyon Wildfire: William Everett, a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran, and his wife, 73-year-old Barbara. They had planned to flee after calling a relative from their home, indicating that they were in the process of evacuating their house shortly before the home caught fire. Both died from "thermal injuries and smoke inhalation."[15]

July 1[edit]

On Sunday, July 1, substantial progress was made. Firefighters were able to contain 55 percent of the fire. Despite these improvements, Colorado Springs still remained under a red flag warning throughout the day.[30]

Highway 24 was reopened after being completely closed to traffic due to the fire reaching the edge of Highway 24. At some points, Highway 24 was limited to two lanes and restricted to residents of Teller and Park Counties only.

Evacuation orders for most of the 35,000 people displaced by the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs were lifted late Sunday, and residents were allowed to return to their homes—or what was left of them. About 3,000 residents remained under evacuation orders. Fire damage was not the only concern for many residents who returned home. Bears and 24 reported burglaries posed further danger to homeowners who headed back to towns and cities after the fire.[31]

July 4[edit]

By July 4, 2012, the fire had reached 80 percent containment, with 1,286 fire fighting personnel still working. The total size of the fire had grown to 18,247 acres. It was estimated that the fire would be fully contained by Saturday night, July 7, 2012 (one week ahead of the original estimate).

Mandatory evacuations in some areas of Northwestern Colorado Springs were expected to be lifted by evening.[32]

Due to the fire bans that were in effect, the United States Air Force Academy cancelled their annual Fourth of July Firework Show.[33]

"A Community Rises" benefit concert was held that evening at the Colorado Springs World Arena. Organizers of the concert, which was televised live on five local TV stations, announced the following night that the event had raised nearly $300,000. Actual contributions at the concert from attendees, as well as the World Arena and Colorado Springs Philharmonic totaled $85,407.90. Online donations through Pikes Peak United Way increased the total to $288,807.00. Other grants, including $125,000 from El Pomar Foundation, brought the final number to well over $500,000. The benefit had been put together in less than a week, beginning with the combined efforts of the Philharmonic, World Arena, Colorado Springs Independent, Focus on the Family, Pikes Peak United Way and other media.[34]

July 5[edit]

As of Thursday, July 5, the fire was at 90 percent containment, with 776 personnel working the fire (fewer people than the day before). The estimate to be fully contained was updated to Friday July 6, 2012. Thirty-seven homes that were evacuated were by now reported to have been burglarized, and authorities were offering up to $50,000 for information on the culprits. In addition, 28 vehicles, many packed with evacuee's belongings, also were broken into after residents fled the fire.[35] The National Guard was summoned to secure and help protect properties within the evacuated areas.

El Paso County published a "Relief and Recovery Assistance Guide" to connect residents with disaster assistance and information. (A revised edition would be published on July 26.)[36]

The origin of the fire was located and investigators began work to determine the exact cause.[37]

July 10[edit]

According to The Denver Channel 7 News, as of Tuesday, July 10, 2012, the most damaging wildfire in Colorado history was 100 percent contained.[38]

The Waldo Canyon Fire left two people dead, destroyed some 346 homes and burned 18,247 acres in the Pike National Forest and in Colorado Springs. Incident Commander Troy Nelsen flew over the fire around 6 p.m. and could not find any smoke plumes in the Blodgett Peak area. It was the only area of concern and with no smoke showing in that area for the past 36 hours the team declared the fire 100 percent contained.

Of the total acres burned in the fire, 14,422 acres were National Forest land, 3,678 acres were private land, and 147 acres were Department of Defense land. These lands spanned five major watersheds within the Pike National Forest, including those of Headwater Fountain Creek, Cascade Creek-Fountain Creek, Garden of the Gods, West Monument Creek, and Lower Monument Creek.[39]

Aftermath[edit]

Wildfire experts say that nearly 20 percent of the total area consumed by the intense blaze was burned so severely that no living vegetation was left on the surface nor root systems left below the surface to a depth of about four inches. The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) assessment team determined that 3,375 acres or about five square miles were damaged so badly after the fire that the area was likened to the landscape of the moon.[40] Aerial mulching for emergency stabilization via helicopters treated 3,038 acres with AgStraw and over 8,000 tons of Woodshred mulch by September.[41] The team was concerned that increased flooding in the area of the fire scar could lead to mudslides along roads and into neighborhoods. "What ends up happening is big boulders, trees, all these burnt trees can fall over, get in these drainages, move downhill very quickly and then cause debris dams and then cause roads to fail and perhaps failures onto Highway 24 or into neighborhoods... this will continue to impact this area absolutely for at least 10 years. Those who live near the burn area need to stay alert and be prepared."[42]

The scarred hillsides in the Waldo Canyon fire burn area intensify the possibility for flash flooding in the streets and neighborhoods below the burn area. In a region with insufficient stormwater systems that is prone to quick, hard summer rains that yearly produce localized flash floods, the burned slopes only increase the chance for disaster. As flood waters travel down the six waterways that flow from the burn area, that water are prone to picking up sediment and other debris that have the potential to cause massive damage to homes, bridges, culverts and streets in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Ute Pass — and even farther downstream. To mitigate possible damage, the Forest Service cleaned culverts, removed sediment, installed warning signs and more, at a cost of about $5 million. Colorado Springs Utilities spent about $8.2 million to fix a damaged pipeline and access road near West Monument Creek, and to add sediment catchment basins to spread debris and slow water flow as it moves downhill. Sediment ponds were added at Flying W Ranch and at Glen Eyrie, which will also construct a debris fence. A debris fence, temporary floodwall and auxiliary spillway are planned at the Alpine Autism Center. Those are part of about $6 million in projects for the city, which also used Air Force Academy cadets and volunteers to build sediment ponds along the slopes of Blodgett Peak Open Space. CDOT and El Paso County have focused on the Highway 24 area, working to secure slopes along the route and improve drainage. CDOT’s long-term improvements, which began in 2013, included a concrete retaining wall to manage debris flow and replacing 18-inch drainage pipes with pipes at least twice as large. The county plans to add a basin to catch sediment and debris upstream of Rainbow Falls, with work beginning late 2013. Manitou Springs doubled the size of two storm drains to handle the flow from Williams Canyon Creek, purchased three early-warning sirens, and removed trees from Fountain Creek that were catching debris.[43]

On June 23, 2012, a dispatcher failed to forward original witness information to the sheriff's fire center and was later reprimanded for her violation. The dispatcher remains in the sheriff's employ, and her mistake remains a good lesson in the perils of complacency, as noted by Sheriff Terry Maketa. "The constant battle for us is trying to fend off complacency as a result of repetition over and over and over. We think this is a factor that entered into this," Maketa said. "It's somewhat tragic, but it's a tremendous learning tool for people. She knew what she was supposed to do. These details could have been helpful." The jogger who reported the fire was not found to be a suspect in the fire's origin.[10]

The city of Colorado Springs published an eight-page "Recovery Resource Guide" in August 2012 to provide "an outline to assist in the efforts to restore the community."[44]

No schools were damaged in the blaze, although it did burn close, in some cases scorching nearby trees. Colorado Springs School District 11 (D-11) officials became aware of 98 student families impacted by the fire, plus the families of at least 17 staff members. In Academy School District 20 (D-20), about 35 students and 20 staff members lived on streets that were listed as highly impacted. Firefighters were working with districts as classes resumed to answer questions, provide support and be visible for kids. Teachers and principals at schools nearest the Waldo Canyon fire burn area expected a lot of conversation about the fire. Teachers and staff at many schools were getting crisis training, and learning how to recognize symptoms of stress. Schools are required by law to hold regular fire drills, and D-11 planned to hold special assemblies soon after school started to give students, especially younger ones, opportunities to interact with firefighters.

D-11 officials have contacted families whose homes were destroyed. They knew there are others whose homes are not on the public damaged lists, but are uninhabitable because of damages inside. Families who were displaced while those damages are repaired were encouraged to contact the Title 1 office so the district can help them with their needs. D-11 expected to provide transportation for 27 students to their home schools. For others affected, transportation either wasn't an issue or they were living close to their destroyed homes. At least four children weren’t returning to their home schools, choosing to attend a school elsewhere in the district or in another district. Some 31 Coronado High School students lost their homes in the blaze, although others will likely also seek help. About 30 families at Chipita Elementary School lost their homes, as did one staff member. Burned homes were not visible from the school, which is a good thing for students. Six schools in mandatory evacuation or pre-evacuation zones were in Academy School District 20. The district was waiting for families and others who were impacted by the blaze to contact it about their specific needs. At least five families at Air Academy High School lost their homes. Those families said the biggest help would be cash to fill the gaps left by insurance, and the school was working to replace school-related items. It was expected that some students would take on fire-related volunteer projects when they return to school. Assistance wasn't limited to current students. Recent graduates have contacted their schools about replacing memorabilia lost in the fire, and schools were pitching in to help. Although communities served by Manitou Springs School District 14 and Woodland Park School District RE-2 were evacuated and the burn scar is visible from schools, no students lost their homes. Officials from all the impacted districts said returning to a consistent and predictable schedule and school activities would help staff and students alike find normalcy and move on.[45]

The fire remains under investigation. While authorities did determine that the fire was human-caused, they are still without a suspect who can help them prove that the fire was either accidental or intentional.[46] Initial assessment of actions during the fire suggested improvements the city could make in the future, including an improvement of internal communications throughout the event.[47]

The rebuilding of devastated neighborhoods is occurring slowly following the initial removal of debris.[48] Over 450 houses that survived the actual fire demonstrated in the following months hidden damage due to exposure to high temperatures (up to 2,000 degrees F), ash or embers, and corrosive particulate infiltration.[49] As of Dec. 12, there have been only 65 new home permits issued to replace the destroyed houses. From the start, the staff at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum recognized the historical significance of the fire. Within a few days of the fire, the museum had put a call out for people to tell their stories and to collect artifacts from the fire.[50]

The city released a 34-page self-assessment Initial After Action Report on Oct. 23. (The Full After Action Report is due out in the second quarter of 2013.) By this time, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 had presented the CSFD Chief with a list of 15 "concerns," most of which deal with the Waldo Fire. "This list is a one-page document that describes employees' candid opinions about Fire Department issues and/or suggestions/recommendations as to how CSFD may improve in these particular areas." The Colorado Springs Independent released its own five-month investigation on Dec. 12, in part based on 116 duty reports filed by CSFD firefighters who worked this fire.[15] City Council president Scott Hente, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper are among those who are calling for an unbiased, third-party review of the fire, above and beyond the city's report due in March. Mayor Bach and the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Local 5 want to see the city's report before backing an external review which some national experts say might cost up to a quarter million dollars. A U.S. Forest Service account of its actions during the fire points out that blazes like these have become the norm, not an aberration. "The Waldo Fire was a perfect example of the type of wildland urban interface fires that have been consistently occurring for the past 10 years and will be occurring for the foreseeable future," the report says. "These wildland fires cross many jurisdictional and political boundaries."[51]

In early January 2013 it was announced that the final dollars from the Waldo Canyon Fire Assistance Fund had been given out to twenty local non-profit groups. The fund was established with a seed grant of $125,000 from El Pomar Foundation. With the addition of donations from the community the fund totaled $940,299.93. An advisory committee made up of people with emergency response experience and a victim of the fire reviewed proposals and approved the grants.[52]

A group of disgruntled fire survivors started impromptu meetings in the fall, originally as the Waldo Canyon Fire Victims Association with nearly 50 families from the Mountain Shadows, Peregrine and Rockrimmon neighborhoods. Their homes had survived the conflagration but had sustained heavy smoke, ash and soot damage. They united because of an inability to get insurance companies to pay damage claims, and they eventually renamed their larger group the Catastrophic Insurance Complaints in Colorado Association. Meeting with various elected officials, including Mayor Steve Bach in early January, to crack the bureaucratic morass, some of the homeowners said they won't get full payment from their insurance companies until they have rebuilt their homes or replaced damaged property, which they must do by June 26, 2013, one year after the fire.[53]

On February 7, the city of Woodland Park issued its own After Action Report, 31 pages in length.[54]

Beginning in February, the Waldo Canyon Fire burn site will be repeatedly visited by engineers and scientists with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, with help from the U.S. Forest Service, to investigate what burned, when, how badly and why, to guide preventative measures as well as to aid firefighting efforts. This effort was instigated by Colorado's U.S. Sens. Michael Bennett and Mark Udall last October. The city was chosen, in part, because "it is already light years ahead of other cities in adopting fire-resistant building codes and reducing fire risk. I think they're going to grow a tool to the point it's going to give us tremendously more accurate information than we have now," said Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey. Sealing the deal was the city's existing three-dimensional imaging of the Mountain Shadows area. Gathered for planning and development purposes, the NIST investigators can know what existed before the fire swept into the city. Alexander Maranghides, lead investigator, envisions NIST's research leading to a playbook of sorts for commanders to consult to gauge how fast and where a fire will spread in making evacuation and firefighting decisions.

Since 2003, the Fire Department has mitigated 5,824 acres in the city, about 20 percent of the 28,800 acres located within the wildland urban interface, through its work with nearly 100 homeowner associations and neighborhood groups. Since the fire-resistant roofing ordinance was adopted about a decade ago, 68,915 homeowners have replaced their shake-shingle roofs or obtained roofing permits to do so. By many measures, Colorado Springs epitomizes the idea of fire-adapted — 13 communities within the city are recognized by the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise® Communities Program, and other neighborhoods have embraced mitigation; efforts are underway to safeguard the city’s utilities from fire hazards; and mitigation saved an entire neighborhood from the devastation that occurred in Mountain Shadows. The loss was bad, and two lives were lost, but the community needs to be proud that 82 percent of the homes that were legitimately threatened by this wildfire event were saved. Getting Colorado Springs wildfire-ready, however, was a test in patience that spanned a decade. And as the Waldo Canyon Fire made evident, that effort is still very much a work in progress.

Officials from Germany, Australia, New Zealand and California have contacted the city in years past for its wildland program. And nine officials from a Russian fire agency came to observe the city's mitigation efforts—arriving, ironically, just as Waldo broke out.[55][56][57]

In early March The Flying W Ranch announced that management wants the popular tourist attraction to open three days a week this summer, with the grand reopening to occur between Memorial Day weekend and the fire's anniversary in late June. To meet that goal, the ranch would need to have a temporary outdoor pavilion built. All but one of the ranch's buildings was destroyed in the fire. Staff and volunteers have worked hard to facilitate reopening by removing debris and reducing the threat of erosion and flash flooding. The ranch's capacity before the fire was 1,200 people, but it is uncertain what the new capacity will be. The fire's aftermath may be an added attraction for visitors. "Many people haven't been here since the fire. They're still going to see burned trees and piles of rubble because we're not going to be able to clean all of it up." Management hopes the ranch will resume operating on a normal basis in the summer of 2014, provided that many of the buildings lost are rebuilt.[58]

On March 27, the Fire Adapted Communities Coalition released a 48-page report based on interviews, field visits and tours of the neighborhoods most affected by the fire.[59]

On April 3, the City of Colorado Springs released its 111-page Final After Action Report.[60]

In mid-April Colorado Springs police arrested a man suspected of stealing more than $200,000 in copper hardware from homes under construction, including several homes being rebuilt after they were destroyed during the Waldo Canyon wildfire. Over a four day period, police say the individual burglarized seven homes under construction—two being rebuilt in the Mountain Shadows subdivision, which was ravaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire last summer. Investigators conducted surveillance on the suspect as he burglarized on April 17 two additional homes under construction in the Mountain Shadows burn area. As he drove from the area, police pulled his vehicle over and arrested him. He has a Colorado criminal history dating to 1984, including arrests for assault, domestic violence, forgery, drug possession, identity theft, and animal cruelty, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI).[61]

On April 19, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office released its 26-page After Action Report.[62]

A low interest loan through the Colorado Enterprise Fund was being offered to help the many small businesses who lost business due to the fire. The loan amount is up to $10,000 with zero percent interest rate for twelve months and then 12 percent interest after that. The funds would help stores to get product on their shelves before Memorial Day which is the traditional kick-off of the summer season. It also allows for a financing program to already be in place for companies impacted by a future natural disaster.[63]

Two individuals, who had seven previous felony convictions between them, had been arrested a day after attempting to sell items stolen from a home in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood, one of the hardest hit by the Waldo Canyon fire the previous June, to an undercover CBI agent. In addition to burglary, the man and woman were also convicted in mid-May 2013 of methamphetamine possession and identity theft, among other charges. They received sentences of 48 and 72 years in prison, respectively. Both received the hefty prison sentences mostly due to the fact that they were repeat offenders eligible to face triple-digit penalties under Colorado’s "habitual offender" laws. Furthermore, prosecutors said that had the pair not been caught, they had plans to victimize other evacuated homes across Colorado in one of the state’s busiest fire seasons to date. Though the couple’s lawyers pushed for leniency, arguing that their clients were intermittently homeless and addicted to drugs, 4th Judicial District Judge David Shakes tended to side with El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, a Waldo Canyon fire evacuee himself, who personally prosecuted the pair.[64]

The U.S. Forest Service planned to reopen on May 24 Rampart Reservoir and some other areas hit by last year's Waldo Canyon fire, just in time for the summer camping and hiking season. While large chunks of the burn scar, including popular trails such as Waldo Canyon, Williams Canyon and Blodgett Peak, are closed indefinitely, Pike National Forest officials have decided it is safe for people to use the campgrounds and trails around Rampart Reservoir and areas to the north. Before the fire, Rampart Reservoir was popular for its network of hiking and biking trails, fishing, boating and two campgrounds. The fire burned along the south shore of the reservoir, though not severely enough to destroy all trees and vegetation in most places. Once reopened, it will be the best chance for people to see up-close the fire's impacts on the forests and how the landscape is taking the first steps toward recovery. The reopening allows the public into about a third of the forest land closed since the fire. The trail to Nichols Reservoir will remain closed, like other trails that enter steeper, more severely burned areas.[65]

As of early June, 347 debris removal/wrecking permits had been issued and that work had been completed on 332 structures. Some 185 new home permits had been issued and 63 of those were completed.[66]

Waldo Canyon fire evacuees hosted a free lunch picnic for Black Forest fire evacuees on June 17 at Woodstone Park in Rockrimmon. Area businesses including Salsa Brava, Old Chicago, TGI Friday's, Outback Steakhouse, Starbucks, Whole Foods and Oliver's Deli - some of which had to evacuate during last summer's wildfire - donated a banquet of Italian, Mexican and American food.[67]

On June 21, the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association upgraded the estimated cost of insured losses in the Waldo Canyon Fire to $453.7 million. Property owners have as much as two years to file claims after wildfires. That's why the number has grown from the previous estimate of $352.6 million.[7][68]

The state Forest Service and Colorado State University did extensive research over the past year on fire danger and created a series of "red zones" that go up and down the Front Range and throughout the western slope. According to their findings after analyzing census data, one in every four homes and one in every five Coloradans live in a red zone which amounts to about 1.1 million people. El Paso, Jefferson, and Boulder Counties are the top three counties in Colorado with residents living in the red zone, with a combined red zone population of 562,000 people and 248,000 homes. Approximately 45 percent of the population of El Paso County, or about 278,000 people, live in a fire danger zone. About 20,000 people and about 7,000 homes are located in the Black Forest Fire evacuation zone. Census data shows that half of those homes were built in the last decade. Just south of the evacuation zone is the Briargate subdivision, one of the largest and fastest growing neighborhoods in northeast Colorado Springs. Researchers say that this subdivision in particular is certain to be exposed to fire in the future. Forest fires are essential for a healthy ecosystem, but as more people build homes in the woods, firefighters have to put out those fires to protect property. Colorado has seen a 300 percent increase in wildfires in the last 10 years.[69]

The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum worked to ensure that the fire is remembered for centuries to come. The museum organized a collection of artifacts from the fire for an exhibit called 'From the Ashes: The Waldo Canyon Fire,' which had its debut on June 22, 2013.[70]

See also[edit]

  • Hayman Fire of 2002, previously the most extensive wildfire in Colorado recorded history

References[edit]

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External links[edit]