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WALDO CANYON FIRE: Teller County waits for highway to open

By: MATT STEINER
June 25, 2012
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photo - Evacuees eat lunch Monday at Summit Elementary School in Divide. Photo by Matt Steiner / The Gazette
Evacuees eat lunch Monday at Summit Elementary School in Divide. Photo by Matt Steiner / The Gazette 

For evacuees in Teller County and those sitting on the edge of their couches waiting for the order to flee the Waldo Canyon fire, everything seems to focus on U.S. Highway 24.

“The fire is quite a ways from us still,” said Hayes Nash, a Woodland Park resident who packed up a camping trailer and hitched it to his truck on Sunday. “I guess the fear at this point is whether it jumps across 24 and comes up the pass.”

Nash, his wife and two kids live a little bit north of the area that have received pre-evacuation notices, but represent exactly what Woodland Park Mayor Dave Turley is preaching to the 7,000 residents in the town and in the entire Pikes Peak Region.

“Be prepared,” Turley said while sitting at the Hungry Bear restaurant at lunchtime Monday and stressing the need to be ready to evacuate on a moment’s notice.

The mayor shares Nash’s concern for any possibility of the Waldo Canyon blaze crossing from north edge of  Highway 24 at Cascade to the south side, where it could start an uphill run, toward Woodland Park and toward Pikes Peak.

Locals fear the fire could keep U.S. Highway 24, which closed midday Sunday, blocked for  days to come, cutting off the mountain communities from supplies and keeping high country commuters from their jobs in Colorado Springs.

“I can burn a few days, but not a couple of weeks,” said Nash, who is taking vacation time during the fire because he can’t get to his contractor job at Fort Carson.

The road closure is causing some to extend their vacations for an unexpected stay in Woodland Park.

Randy Geisweidt, Alden Van Dyke and Mitch Van Dyke, from Colorado Springs got stuck on the wrong side of Ute Pass after a camping trip off Rampart Range Road.

The trio was fishing at Rampart Reservoir Saturday when they saw a plume of smoke and decided to get off the lake. As they left the park, a ranger came running toward their vehicle “cackling like a panicked hen,” Geisweidt said, and telling them they needed to evacuate.

So they moved to South Meadows campground north of Woodland Park on Highway 67.

Monday morning, they were hanging out on Highway 24 near the Western Convenience gas station waiting for the road  to open.

Gas stations in Woodland Park and beyond had to deal with a short supply of fuel as residents filled up Sunday in case a quick getaway was needed.

Signs saying “out of all fuel except for diesel” decorated the pumps at the Safeway gas station Monday morning. The shortage of fuel was amplified as suppliers couldn’t take their normal route up Highway 24.

A Loaf N Jug and Cenex station were ahead of the competition, Monday, as gas tankers took the windy road from Denver south down Highway 67 on Sunday night.

Highway 24 woes also left Red Cross evacuees wondering who would provide dinner Monday night at the but Summit Elementary shelter in Divide, which housed 30 people.

“Normally our food comes from the Springs,” shelter manager Richard Garcia said. “But our supply lines have been cut off.”

STILL READY TO LEAVE
If the Waldo Canyon Fire moves farther west and evacuations need to be ordered in Woodland Park, Mayor Dave Turley said that residents will be notified through all available avenues: facebook.com, twitter.com, reverse 911 calls, newspapers, television news, door-to-door alerts and word of mouth.
“There will be a double check of all neighborhoods,” Turley said, noting that city workers, police and fire will walk the streets, making note of each home’s status and returning later to contact homeowners who weren’t home the first time.

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