NOREEN: Manitou Springs shows its true colors

June 24, 2012
photo - A rare sight -- a vacant Manitou Avenue on a summertime Sunday. Photo by Photo by Barry Noreen
A rare sight -- a vacant Manitou Avenue on a summertime Sunday. Photo by Photo by Barry Noreen 

Bobby White grew up in Manitou Springs, attended high school there.

A professional firefighter, he’s fought wildland fires in a lot of places. He would fight them just as hard, no matter where. When he saw the Waldo Canyon Fire creeping over the ridgeline toward his town, he was asked, was it personal?

“It’s a lot personal. It is,” White said.

Sunday afternoon, White and a handful of others manned a fire observation post, watching as occasional big flare-ups scorched the hillsides north of town. Hundreds of firefighters were en route to the fire, but no one was digging fire line Sunday.

The fire lashed out in different directions, so the primary attack was from the air, as helicopters and slurry bombers tried to slow the fire down.

For Manitou’s small department and more than 30 volunteers, the first big job was to make sure the town was evacuated.

“It’s amazing,” White said, “to look at the people you live with and grew up with and say, ‘You’ve got to go.’”

And they did. Early in the day (see the photo I took at the top of this column) the usually bustling Manitou Avenue was vacant — not a car or a pedestrian.

Around noon, Robin Barker showed up for her shift at the fire station, having returned home in the wee hours only to go back, supervising the evacuation teams. She’s been working one fire or another for weeks.

Volunteers trickled in. A guy drove up with a load of bottled water to donate. Another guy walked in to announce the New Jerusalem Cafe’s grill would remain open for the firefighters’ benefit.

Matt Clark, a lieutenant with the the Colorado Springs Fire Department and a Manitou resident, was in the thick of it — his home is across the street from the fire department. Manitou Fire chief Keith Buckmiller calmly directed a lot of traffic, coordinating operations, briefing the town board at a special meeting.

The fire is scary. The region is not out of danger yet.

But it’s in the darker hours when class will reveal itself. It must be said that on Sunday Manitou was a little town with a big sense of itself  — pulling together.

In the early afternoon, the blaze made a dramatic move at the top of the ridge north of town. Here and there, trees would virtually explode, torched down to a charred skeleton in a few seconds.

From the observation post ominous smoke obscured the upper reaches of Williams Canyon, which runs right into town. Although the fire’s pyrotechnics on the ridgeline were impressive, White stared at the mouth of Williams Canyon and said, “that’s what worries me.”

The wind died down a bit, then seemed to shift away from Manitou. The flaming drama on the ridge subsided.

The slurry bombers were dropping their orange-red goo, painting ridges farther north and Manitou, at least early in the afternoon, seemed much safer.

“It is rockin’ north,” White said.

If it continues in that direction it’s good for Manitou, bad for somebody else. In any case the firefighters knew that come Monday, they would placed in the line with pulaskis, shovels and chain saws. It is going to be one tough slog.

Yet one got the impression that Buckmiller, Clark, White and all the volunteers couldn’t wait for the opportunity.

Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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