WALDO CANYON FIRE: Forest service veteran now a celebrity

RYAN MAYE HANDY Updated: June 30, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: June 30, 2012

Like the smoke staining the horizon, the faces of Colorado Springs officials have become regular sights to residents since the Waldo Canyon fire ignited on U.S. Forest Service lands one week ago.

While the visages of El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and Mayor Steve Bach might have been known to some, there is one face that was not — that of Jerri Marr, forest supervisor for the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands. Her title is a mouthful for anyone but her, and has been tripping up officials since she first joined the fire-public relations circuit nearly three weeks ago, when the Springer fire broke out near Lake George, in Park County.

Marr, a 26-year-veteran of the forest service, has gained fans across the city with her twice daily appearances on local television. Fan groups have cropped up praising her calm, compassionate demeanor as she faces a phalanx of reporters each day. She has a Facebook fan following, and even a push by Twitter devotees demanding a presidential bid.

For the past week she has been in the line-up of officials addressing the city and media members, introducing incident commanders, fielding questions from reporters, and on one occasion, calming an irate Mountain Shadows resident while on live television.

Tuesday night as the fire exploded into neighborhoods she uttered an unforgettable line: “That was not in the plan.”

At the Saturday morning news conference Marr’s good humor prevailed again, when her leather boots snagged several microphone cords, sending her sprawling across the asphalt. She tumbled into a perfect stop-drop-and-roll routine, and landed sitting up, surprised eyes popping out above her askew sunglasses.

While officials scrambled to help her up, Marr was one step ahead of them: “I’m OK,” she said, laughing. The cameras had not started rolling, and Marr thanked her lucky stars that she hadn’t embarrassed herself on national television.

Marr is a newcomer to the Pikes Peak region — she took on her role with the Pueblo forest service office in December 2010, according to the forest service website. She manages nearly three million acres of forest and grasslands stretching from the Pikes Peak region southward, and eastward into the Kansas prairies. She has overseen territory in Oregon, and came to Colorado after serving as Deputy Forest Supervisor on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

Marr was not present at an impromptu news conference on Tuesday afternoon called by city officials to discuss Mountain Shadows visits for residents. It was the first time she had missed one since last Sunday. Her absence proved that she has earned the favor of those standing behind the microphones, as well.

Mayor Steve Bach looked oddly alone as he addressed a line of cameras and reports without the familiar faces of Marr and other forest service officials behind him.

“It’s not right without Jerri being here!” he exclaimed.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

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