Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content WALDO CANYON FIRE: More interior burning expected

Staff reports Updated: June 30, 2012 at 12:00 am

11:35 p.m. The Disaster Recover Center has this, too: "To further help residents impacted by the fire Verizon Wireless has donated a 54 foot mobile communications center offering free Wi-Fi service, computer stations  and other communications resources.  The Verizon Mobile Communications Center is open the same hours as the Disaster Recovery Center."

11:12 p.m. Some notes from earlier: More than 400 people visited El Paso County's Disaster Recovery Center, which opened Saturday in the former Department of Human Services building at 105 N. Spruce St., during its first day of opeation, County Commission Chairman Amy Lathen said. The center is designed to provide resources for those affected by the fire from more than 20 government and nonprofit agencies as well as several insurers. Lathen said the county plans to operate the center for at least a month and up to two months, depending on need.

President Obama's June 28 disaster declaration also makes residents of El Paso County eligible for special unemployment insurance assistance and crisis counseling, said DeAnn Criswell, Region 8 director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

10:55 p.m. From the city: "At the 8 a.m. news briefing, there will be additional updates provided about Peregrine and the other areas outside of the impacted Mountain Shadows areas that are still under mandatory evacuation. We will not have additional information on those areas available until then."

10 p.m. Note from incident commanders: "Evacuees who have returned to their homes are asked not to call 911 to report smoke arising from within the fire perimeter. Waldo Canyon is still an active fire, so residents can expect to see flames during the day, and especially at night. Burning of interior islands of fuel is desirable, as it reduces the chances of a larger fire developing and spotting outside the fire perimeter."

9:50 p.m. Firefighters are rushing to douse a reported grass fire in teh 2100 block of Carmel Drive in southeast Colorado Springs. It was quickly put out.

9:30 p.m. Officials in Monument and Palmer Lake have lifted a pre-evacuation order for residents living north of the Air Force Academy and west of Interstate 25.

"Based upon information obtained from the Incident Command Center in reference to the Waldo Canyon fire, Tri-Lakes Emergency Services agencies are lifting the pre-evacuation notice that had been in effect for areas of the Town of Monument, the Town of Palmer Lake, as well as areas of unincorporated El Paso County, that lie west of I-25, north of the Air Force Academy, and south of County Line Road," authorities said in a news release. "We ask that all residents remain cognizant of the current fire situation and continue to monitor events as they unfold.  This can be done by watching the continuing news coverage of the event provided by local news stations."

8:10 p.m. The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC has recruited 22 government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other groups to form the Pikes Peak Regional Business Recovery Team to help businesses affected by the Waldo Canyon fire.

Chamber and EDC CEO Joe Raso, said he asked his staff Wednesday to begin contacting city and county officials, the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, members of Congress representing Colorado Springs, other chambers of commerce in the region, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center.

"Having gone through floods in Eastern Iowa in 2008, I knew there would be a great need to bring public and private resources together to talk about business recovery. We need to find out what everybody knows and what steps to take to assess what is happening to the business community," Raso said. "We want to bring organizations around the table who know what is going on and can provide information to businesses in the evacuated areas."

The team has formed smaller task forces to get information from companies who have needs or can provide resources, to assess how the fire is affecting both tourism and business relocation marketing, to determine what short-term loans are available to businesses to meet cash-flow needs and contact local foundations to seek short-term grants for local businesses, Raso said. The group has posted a survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/M52DY6K, where businesses can provide information on how they have been affected by fire, their most immediate need and how much revenue they have lost as a result of the fire.

"We have businesses, both retailers and restaurants, in Manitou Springs, for example, that are ready to serve customers and are not seeing much traffic. We need people to visit these local establishments to help them survive this disaster," Raso said. "I don't know what the solutions will be, but we have to look at the issues and see if we can come up with solutions for these companies. It is a critical time for tourism and there are areas that are hurting."

7:44 p.m. Colorado Springs residents are jumpy; someone just called the 911 to report a fire that turned out to be a barbecue.

7 p.m. The Gazette's Matt Steiner reports that there are some happy people in Teller County tonight after officials said that many evacuees, including some who have been out of their homes for a week, will be allowed to return. The biggest morale boost: Word that U.S. Highway 24 could reopen Sunday night, bringing back a lifeline for Woodland Park and surrounding communities.

6:15 p.m. The Army has been taking some serious territory in their bid to stop the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Combat engineers from the post plowed 12 miles of fire line in 96 hours at the Air Force Academy, the post said in a news release. That's like building a new road from Fountain to downtown Colorado Springs in four days.

The post also has eight firefighters and two engines helping out in Colorado Springs and Cascade.

"Mission accomplished at the academy, engineer units and firefighters have returned to Fort Carson to refit equipment and prepare for any future contingencies," the post said in a news release.

5:40 p.m. This just in  from the city: "Please note the phone number given at the  4 p.m. media briefing for people wanting to make large donations or offer services to the Disaster Recovery Center is not the best number to use. Please ask them to (719) 444-8300. Groups like Goodwill and helpcoloradonow.org are still great places for individuals wishing to help as those groups will directly be coordinated with the Recovery Center.

Please remind citizens food donations cannot be accepted at the Center. Those need to be taken to Care and Share."

5:21 p.m. Fighting fire isn't cheap. The Waldo Canyon effort has run up an $8.8 million tab so far.

5 p.m. 10,000 people remain evacuated, but that number is dropping tonight as Teller residents head home. Those who have had their evacuation order lifted still should remain ready to leave. Teller County areas remain on pre-evacuation status.

4:38 p.m.: The date of full containment may be moved up, said Rich Harvey, incident commander of the Waldo Canyon fire. July 16 is the estimated date of full containment as of Saturday afternoon.

4:35 p.m.: The Woodland Park Wal-Mart will re-open at 7 a.m. Sunday.

4:30 p.m.: Weather forecast is for continued high temperatures and little to no precipitation. Winds are not expected to be bad.

Officials are concerned about a potential repeat of Tuesday's firestorm. The fuels remain extremely high, the topography remains steep and it's an explosive situation. Fire always has the potential to become extreme in these conditions.

4:28 p.m.: Firefighting crews continue to be optimistic. Crews are making progress on a hotspot near Cave of the Winds. Firefighters are working hard in the Peregrine neighborhood.

4:25 p.m.: Containment in the Waldo Canyon fire is now at 45 percent. Thanks to cloud cover, firefighters were able to make great strides, said Jerri Marr, forest supervisor for the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands.

4:12 p.m.: FEMA is in the Pikes Peak region at the request of Gov. John Hickenlooper.

4:11 p.m.: Wal-Mart has donated $100,000 in various supplies, mostly water.

4:08 p.m.: Colorado Springs Police Department chief Pete Carey said that the confidence level is high that all missing persons have been accounted for.

4:05 p.m.: All mandatory evacuations in Teller County, including Woodland Park, have been lifted, Teller County sheriff Mike Ensminger said.

Ensminger said he toured fire lines Saturday, and officials decided that it would be safe for residents in Teller County to go home.

This does not include the citizens who reside along U.S. Highway 24 in El Paso County, specifically areas around Green Mountain Falls and Crystola.  Those residences remain on mandatory evacuation. If things go according to plan, these residents will be allowed back to their homes on Sunday. Officials say that Green Mountain Falls has undergone an invasion by bears.

Highway 24 remains closed in Crystola westbound and at Cave of the Winds eastbound. If residents of Green Mountain Falls and Crystola are allowed to return home Sunday, they will be the only ones allowed to use Highway 24. Others will have to wait.

Officials hope to have the highway opened Sunday evening.

Citizens returning to their homes in Teller County will remain on pre-evacuation status.

All citizens are encouraged and requested to remain on alert as to changes in their surroundings, there is still an active fire burning in the area. Smoke will continue to be visible.

3:05 p.m. Next press briefing on the fire is set for 4 p.m. We'e expecting information for residents in Peregrine and surrounding neighborhoods to be released. We'll be there.

2:57 p.m. U.S. Northern Command in concert with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has appointed Air Force Col. Peter J. Byrne to oversee firefighting efforts.

Byne is a "dual-status" commander, who can oversee active-duty and National Guard troops working on the fire.

"Col. Byrne is a command pilot with more than 2,500 military flying hours and more than 145 combat hours who was commissioned in 1984 and joined the Colorado Air National Guard in 1991," Nothern Command said in a news release.

2:33 p.m.: Burnout is under way near the Blodgett trailhead. This should pose no danger to the community, but will create a lot of smoke. These operations are designed to remove fuel in the middle of already burned areas, reducing the fire's ability to spread.

2:30 p.m. This just in from the Housing and Building Association: "The Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs is working closely with the local government to help rebuild our community. We’re honored to be part of the tremendous outpouring of support for the individuals and families who have lost their home or have been displaced as a result of the recent fires."

2:15 p.m.: From the city's website:

Residents of the Mountain Shadows area impacted by the Waldo Canyon Fire will be allowed to drive into and visit their properties in their personal vehicles on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

Arrival/Check-in from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m.

  • Photo i.d. and proof of residency (e.g., lease, management contact, utility bill, etc.) is required.
  • Check-in locations are:
  • North Division(Chuckwagon Road / South of Wolfe Ranch and South of Flying W Ranch Road / West of Centennial Boulevard) will check in at Eagle View Middle School at 1325 Vindicator Drive.
  • South Division(South of Chuckwagon Road / North of 30th Street / West of Centennial Boulevard) will check in at the Verizon building (old MCI facility) at 2424 Garden of the Gods Road.

No access to destroyed homes will be allowed at this time.  Due to serious health and safety concerns, no sifting through debris will be allowed at this time. Safety and security personnel will be on site. 

Residents whose homes are not visibly damaged will be able to enter their home, retrieve items, and are asked to take steps to secure their property, clean out refrigerators, etc.

Details for the removal and disposal of refrigerator contents are being worked out and will be posted on the City web site at www.SpringsGov.comlater today.

At the 4 p.m. press briefing today, additional information specific to the residents of Peregrine will be released.

2 p.m.: Mountain Shadows residents impacted by fire will be allowed to visit their properties in own vehicles from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Only residents who live within 30th Street on south, Centennial Boulevard on east and Flying W Ranch Road to north will be allowed access.

1:53 p.m. Firefighters are starting a "burnout" of an area near the Blodgett trailhead. This should pose no danger to the community but will create a lot of smoke. These operations are designed to remove fuel in the middle of already burned areas, reducing the fire's ability to spread.

1:30 p.m. You'll hear the rumbling of those lumbering C-130s overhead today as the Air Force continues its fight against the Waldo Canyon Fire. The 302nd Airlift Wing just posted this on Facebook: "MAFFS operations continue on the flightline at Peterson Air Force Base."

1:30 p.m. There's a whole lot of helping going on. This just in from the Salvation Army: "The Salvation Army is still serving meals, snacks and drinks from shelter sites, mobile kitchens, on the fire lines, at the Emergency Operations Center and in neighborhoods where families are being allowed to return.

The Salvation Army is on site at the following shelters:
-Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs
-YMCA on Jetwing in Colorado Springs
-Cripple Creek High School in Cripple Creek
-Lewis Palmer High School in Monument

In addition, The Salvation Army is also providing the following:
-Meal service for the shelter operation in Divide, when needed
-Three meals a day for 1,000 fire fighters and Hot Shot teams at Station 9, near Garden of the Gods
-Lunch and dinner for 300 at the El Paso County Emergency Operations Center (EOC)
-Beginning Saturday, June 30, snacks, water and Gatorade for fire fighters on the fire lines
-Snack and drink service for the families that are being allowed back into their homes

Those who wish to support The Salvation Army’s disaster response may do so by sending a check earmarked “Disaster Relief” or “Wild Fires” to their local Salvation Army office, by donating online at www.imsalvationarmy.org, or by making a credit card donation at 1-800-SAL-ARMY."

12:54 p.m. The high-temperature record for Colorado Springs could topple Saturday afternoon as the mercury nears the 1967 mark of 97 degrees.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Pueblo said temperatures were hanging at 92 degrees just after 1 p.m. and were expected to rise to 96 degrees this afternoon.

Winds are currently 6 mph from the south, with gusts up to 15 mph expected later in the day. Clouds will continue to gather, with forecasters predicting a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms around 3 p.m.

12:40 p.m. This just in from the city: "There will be a press briefing at 2 p.m. today, Saturday, June 30 at the media staging area at UCCS to announce details relating to homeowner sites visits into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood."

12:30 p.m. Concerns remain for Woodland Park where officials said they remained worried about fire lines near U.S. Highway 24 at Crystola and potential for winds coming up the pass.

12:20 p.m. Smoke is still billowing from canyons west of Colorado Springs, but efforts to help those impacted by the fire are in full swing. Reporter Mary Shinn said there was a big turnout for a giveaway at New Life Church to help evacuees and those who have lost their homes.

11:39 a.m.: Students and alumni from Liberty High School are organizing a donation drive Saturday until 4 p.m. at the school, 8720 Scarborough Dr. All donations will be taken to Care and Share. 

11:04 a.m.: As of 10 a.m. Saturday, the City of Colorado Springs Police Department has confirmed 22 burglaries and attempted burglaries in evacuation zones since the beginning of this incident.  One arrest has been made and police are actively working these cases.

10:43 a.m.: Woodland Park Mayor Dave Turley said there will be no change in evacuation status Saturday, but all eyes are on the line established just west of Crystola along Highway 24. 

"Today is a very important day," Turley said after his morning meeting with Teller County officials. "It will all depend on weather."

The mayor said Saturday's conditions are expected to be hotter and drier than they were Friday along the western lines of the Waldo Canyon fire.

10:15 a.m.: Agencies from Peterson AFB will convene Monday for the Waldo Canyon Fire Support Fair at 2:30 p.m. in the R.P. Lee Youth Center. The event's purpose is to provide Department of Defense employees and their families who are affected by the wildfire with information, services and support. Representatives from the civilian and military personnel offices, Emergency Family Affairs Control Center, Airman and Family Readiness Center, finance, legal, TRICARE and others will be on hand to offer information and services to those in attendance. Free childcare is available during the support fair.

9:55 a.m.: Fire crews are allowing insurance agents in marked vehicles from USAA and State Farm agencies into the fire zone to inspect damaged homes, according to radio traffic. They have been instructed to only let in USAA and State Farm agencies - there is some controversy about All State agents trying to get in as well.

9:45 a.m.: The U.S. Postal Service has announced restoration of service in some areas.

If you receive mail out of Rockrimmon Station, 80919/80949, the office has reopened and carriers are making limited deliveries. Some delivery areas remain closed and that mail will be available for pickup at the Rockrimmon Station. For specific questions, call (719) 266-8216.

If you receive mail in the Cedar Heights area, ZIP 80904, normal mail delivery will return today. The office is open and retail services are operational.

Additionally, all operations out of the Air Force Academy, 80840, North End Station, 80907, and Kissing Camels area, 80904, have returned to normal

9:30 a.m.: The Safeway store located at RockRimmon and Village Center Blvd. re-opened today at 7 am after being closed for four days due to mandatory fire evacuation. Safeway stores in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region will continue to raise funds for the American Red Cross Wildfire Disaster efforts.  Employees and customers have raised more than $50,000 for the relief effort so far.

9:20 a.m.: Latest information from the Joint Information Center:

Fire activity is expected to increase today and tomorrow, with higher temperatures and decreasing humidity. Possible afternoon thunderstorms could also bring strong, gusty winds. Temperatures are expected to reach at least 15 degrees above season normal. 

On the west side of the fire, crews will hold and improve line from Rampart Ridge Road south to Highway 24, eliminating hotspots where required, extinguishing roll-out logs, and continuing structure protection, with the aim of re-opening the highway as soon as possible. Night crews successfully performed a burnout operation in this area overnight. 

Smoke may again be visible from Colorado Springs, as a large island of fuel within the fire perimeter continues to burn, but poses no threat.

Aircraft will make retardant drops on the northern perimeter as firefighters attempt to hold the fire south of Monument Creek. Three spot fires northeast of Rampart Reservoir are being aggressively attacked by air, bulldozers and hand crews. Firefighters will also continue construction of a contingency bulldozer line along Mt. Herman Road north of the fire. 

Air resources will continue to be used to suppress fire activity in Williams Canyon on the southern flank of the fire.

8:45 a.m.: Thanks to a productive day of firefighting, the Waldo Canyon fire is at 30 percent containment, according to officials at an 8 a.m. press conference Saturday.

Fire officials were "cautiously optimistic" heading into Day 8 of the fire. However, they remained concerned about a number of hot spots.

U.S. Highway 24 from Cave of the Winds through Crystola remains closed. Officials continue to talk about reopening the highway, but nothing has changed as of 8:30 a.m.

8:26 a.m.: The addition of the national guard is not in response to the threat of increased crime, CSPD police chief Pete Carey said. Carey said earlier that the National Guard patrols will allow CSPD to return service areas not affected by the fire.

8:25 a.m.: No new mandatory evacuations have been lifted.

8:23 a.m.: Highway 24 remains closed from Cave of the Winds through Crystola. Operationally for the fire, it's a corridor that is used.

8:20 a.m.: Rich Harvey is concerned about a north central hot spot in Waldo Canyon fire. "We're cautiously optimistic," he said. Nearly 1,300 firefighters are on the scene Saturday morning.

8:16 a.m.: "Today is going to be our test day," said Jerri Marr of the U.S. Forest Service. The fire reportedly is heading the right direction, but the weather is expected to be hot and dry once again.

8:15 a.m.: Containment now at 30 percent.

8:14 a.m.: Mail service back to normal in Cedar Heights. There are still some outstanding issues in the Rockrimmon area.

8:13 a.m.: City Utilities plans restoration efforts from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Utilities plans to send more than 100 workers out to work on this. They also to plan to turn off water and electricity for those homes that were destroyed.

8:12 a.m.: Starting Saturday night, the national guard will be patrolling with the Colorado Springs Police Department.

8:10 a.m.: About 10,000 residents remain under evacuation, said Bret Waters of the city's emergency management system.

7:30 a.m.: A media briefing is scheduled for 8 a.m. We will provide updates from that meeting once they become available.

Officials were cautiously optimistic as they continued to gain ground against the Waldo Canyon fire at the end of the fire week.

Still, they warned that the fire remains unpredictable and temperatures are forecast to increase a bit over the weekend. Containment was estimated at 25 percent.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities said damage to gas and power lines in the northwest part of the city will continue to keep people from returning to homes in Mountain Shadows and Peregrine.

Hundreds of residents returned to their home over the past two nights, as officials continue to assess damages. Information about destroyed and damaged homes was released by the city. To see a street-by-street map click here.

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