Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

WALDO CANYON FIRE: Cedar Heights worked hard to help save itself, mayor says

MARIA ST.LOUIS-SANCHEZ Updated: June 25, 2012 at 12:00 am

On top of a hill just south of Manitou Springs Sunday afternoon, Park Hill watched as a fire glowed on a ridge just above his home in the Cedar Heights neighborhood.

“This is as close as I can get to my house,” he said. “There’s nothing that I can do, but I’m optimistic.”

Hill is staying in a motel close to this vantage point so, every half an hour or so, he can climb up and make sure that his home is safe. Watching his home has been his only comfort in the past few days – he was out of the neighborhood when evacuation orders were put place and wasn’t able to retrieve any of his belongings.

“All I’ve got is my dog and this outfit right here,” he said, slapping his jeans and causing a cloud of dust to rise from them.

The high-end community has been one of the most threatened since the start of the Waldo Canyon fire, which has burned almost 4,500 acres and also threatens other parts of El Paso and Teller counties. At a press conference Monday afternoon, firefighters said the fire was bumping the containment lines but they had made progress in protecting the area.

If it were lost to the blaze, the monetary damage would be huge.

The gated community of 187 homes on the hillsides and bluffs that overlook Garden of the Gods is one of the most beautiful, and expensive in the city. In 2011, the average Cedar Heights home sold for $470,000 – down from a peak average price of $712,500 in 2008.

But firefighters and city officials have said that there’s at least one comfort as the blaze approaches the houses: If any neighborhood surrounded by trees on the west side could survive this threat, it would be Cedar Heights.

The neighborhood has been a poster child for fire mitigation work, said Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach. A couple of years ago, when residents were warned about the potential for fire danger, they took action, he said.

Working with city officials, they staged a mock evacuation so they would be prepared to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice. The city also gave residents advice about the best ways to mitigate fire threats around their homes and they complied, Bach said. The city even hauled out the debris for free, he said.

“Thank goodness they prepared when they did,” Bach said. “If not, this would be an entirely different situation.”

He hopes that, in the future, all neighborhoods become as prepared.

“Once this is behind us, I see it as a call to action for the entire community west of Interstate 25,” he said.

He said the neighborhood is a priority for Colorado Springs fire crews and they have 100 people dedicated to saving the neighborhood with 20-30 trucks.

Hill said he’s happy that so many resources the city has put into protecting his neighborhood. He and his neighbors knew about the potential threat when they moved there and did the best they could to protect their homes.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Hill said. “But, at this point, it’s out of our hands.”

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