Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and other officials smiled many times during a media briefing Thursday morning, and said there was good reason to hope that the Waldo Canyon fire was on its way out the door.
By Wednesday evening, not a single firefighter or police officer had been harmed, and not one additional structure had burned down, they said. And though the fire is still only 5 percent contained, firefighters made “great progress yesterday,” according to incident commander Rich Harvey.
Firefighters have kept the blaze above Highway 24, which has been one of their goals throughout the battle, Harvey said. And Woodland Park has been protected thus far, he pointed out.
More than 1,200 firefighters were on the scene, Harvey said, from hundreds of departments.
That includes firefighters from across the country, as far away as Indiana and Iowa, US Forest Service spokesman Greg Heule said Wednesday night.
The Air Force Academy, which is partially burning, got two big boosts Wednesday night and Thursday morning, when Fort Carson sent them 121 soldiers and they opened a new airstrip for planes to load firefighting planes with thousands of gallons of retardant.
The three C-130 air tankers being used to fight the fire, along with three single engine aircraft, can now reload with retardant at an airstrip on Academy grounds to the east of the fire, instead of having to fly down to Peterson Air Force Base. That means the planes can reload quicker and drop more retardant throughout the day.
The C-130s can carry up to 3,000 gallons of retardant at a time, and the single engine aircraft can carry up to 400 gallons.
Fort Carson transferred several engineering units Wednesday night and sent them to the Academy, to help build firebreak lines before the blaze could reach any further. The engineering units included 121 troops, 10 heavy bulldozers, four excavators, two wreckers for maintenance operations, two flatbed trucks, two fuel trucks, 13 military transportation and support vehicles, and a commercial road grader.
In a statement, the Army said it was prepared to commit as many resources as it could to stopping the fire from spreading.
But officials also hedged their optimism Thursday morning with warnings that the fight is far from over.
Bach began the press conference Thursday morning with what many already knew — the devastation of the Waldo Canyon Fire has hit hundreds of homes, and even more residents.
“We now know that hundreds of homes have been destroyed,” Bach said during a press conference. “This is a firestorm of epic proportions. It’s an act of God.”
And though no additional evacuation orders had been issued, none had been lifted, either. Holland Park and Pleasant Valley, for example, which have been under a pre-evacuation order since mid-day yesterday, are still on watch, even though the fire has spread away from them for the most part.
“They leave the pre-evacuation orders in place for a reason,” said Heule, from the USFS. “They want people to be ready to go.”
Firefighters will continue attacking the flames from all sides on Thursday, in Sand Gulch, the east side of Woodland Park, Eagle Lake Camp, Rampart Range Reservoir, Cedar Heights, and all along Highway 24.