Anticipating the smoke plume from the Waldo Canyon Fire as I drove south from Denver to Colorado Springs on June 27, I never imagined what I was about to see would exceed my wildest expectation. Upon my first glimpse of the wildfire I was awash with sadness and disbelief.
As a former twenty-eight-year resident of Colorado Springs, and eight-year employee of the Colorado Springs Fire Department, with three of those years as the Firewise Program Coordinator, I was fully aware of the potential magnitude of a wildfire in the area where more than 32,000 residents had recently been evacuated. But what I was seeing was bigger than I ever imagined.
The residents of the area most heavily impacted by the fire had been hearing Firewise messages that stressed the importance of mitigation, preparedness, and evacuation for ten years. Many of the residents embraced the concept of mitigation and became tireless advocates preaching its importance to their neighbors. Some held Firewise meetings in their homes and encouraged their neighbors to work together to reduce their risk. They talked about helping each other if an evacuation was ever needed.
One advocate vividly stands out in my memory – his name was Jack, a retired dentist. His neighbor was a CSFD deputy chief and together they’d worked to create defensible space, incorporate hardscape features into the landscaping; even choosing fire resistant building and deck materials. Impressed with Jack's efforts, a video was developed and aired dozens of times on the city’s public access cable channel to encourage others to share in the responsibility of living in the wildland/urban interface. Jack embodied all the qualities of a true Firewise Champion. Our heartfelt thoughts are with everyone impacted by the Waldo Canyon Fire.
Currently, the loss of homes in the Waldo Canyon Fire is estimated at 346. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.