WOODLAND PARK — Driving through Woodland Park on Thursday made one feel a bit like they were in a ghost town. Not only was U.S. Highway 24 fairly deserted from the closure down Ute Pass, but business after business was closed — many posting signs that read “closed for emergency.”
Resident’s hanging out at Gold Hill Plaza on Thursday morning, where Gold Hill Java and City Market remain open for business, guessed that the exodus of mandatory and voluntary evacuees has led to a shortage of employees for many businesses.
In fact, City Market assistant manager Josh Cunico confirmed that the grocery store had to schedule some overtime shifts to fill gaps left by the exodus.
“But I think we’re in the best shape of any of our stores,” Cunico said, mentioning that he has 10 employees evacuated and several King Soopers outlets in Colorado Springs have been having problems with staffing as well.
Several homes on the east and south ends of Woodland Park were ordered to evacuate Wednesday. The rest of the town of about 7,600 people in Teller County has been put on standby, in case more evacuations are ordered.
Most of the businesses that were closed Thursday were in downtown Woodland Park in the pre-evacuation zones, including Wells Fargo bank, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, The Hungry Bear Restaurant, Joanie’s Bakery and Delicatessen and all shops in the Safeway strip except for the grocery store.
Josh Jennings, who works for Buck’s Bar, said the bar closed early Wednesday as it was “just me and the owner left.”
“I’m a cook,” Jennings, 23, said. “I don’t know how to tend bar. If I would have got a rush, we would’ve been in trouble.”
Even Wal-Mart, which boasts an open-everyday-except-Christmas policy, was closed. Town officials had asked the department store to remain open Wednesday, even though it is in the mandatory evacuation zone. Fire and law enforcement agencies moved the Highway 24 closure west of the store and forced it to shut down.
Steve, an evacuee who had to leave his home near Crystola on Wednesday and did not want his last name published, said he works at Wal-Mart and won’t be able to receive a paycheck while living in a camper in the Safeway parking lot.
“It’s got everybody stagnated,” said his wife Patricia, who was sitting outside their camper Thursday with the couple’s dog Sweet Pea. “We can’t go on about our business. It’s come to a complete stop.”
• People under mandatory evacuation from Woodland Park and Green Mountain Falls, and Woodland Park P.O. Box customers can get mail at the Divide Post Office (66 S. Hybrook Rd.)
• Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, just west of Woodland Park on Highway 24, is in the pre-evacuation zone; the emergency room is open 24/7. Penrose Mountain Urgent Care at highways 24 and 67 will be open Friday.
• Those in the pre-evacuation areas who leave voluntarily should call the Teller County Sheriff’s Office at 687-9652 and the Woodland Park city office at 687-9262 to ensure patrols monitor their homes.
• Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery said three U.S. Forest Service firefighter divisions were working on the Woodland Park side of the fire Thursday morning.
• Woodland Park will hold daily community meetings at 11:30 a.m. at City Hall and at 7 p.m. at Summit Elementary School evacuation shelter until further notice.
• The Teller County Regional Animal Shelter (308 Weaverville Road in Divide) needs dogwalkers for evacuated animals.
Follow Matt Steiner on Twitter @gazsteiner or Facebook at Matt Steiner, Gazette Reporter.