Woodland Park’s Denise Combs couldn’t contain her excitement Saturday evening.
Combs stood on her deck on Glen Dale Drive off U.S. Highway 24, which officials expect will be open Sunday night, waving at cars, yelling “Hello!” and welcoming everyone back to the neighborhood.
Combs and her husband, Paul, were two of an estimated 3,000 evacuees in Woodland Park and Teller County who got the word Saturday afternoon that firefighters had made the western front of the Waldo Canyon fire safe enough for residents to return home.
Teller Sheriff Mike Ensminger didn’t hesitate at Saturday’s 4 p.m. community meeting in Divide. Within two sentences of opening the gathering, he smiled wide and told the world that mandatory evacuations had been lifted in the county.
Ensminger, just two days before, told Teller residents, “I am waiting for the chance to stand up here and tell everyone that they can go home.”
Virginia Johnston, who lives in the Forest Edge Park area off Rampart Range Road, was also one of the first residents to make it home. She had a more reserved approach, however, as she unloaded her SUV at her house on Parkview Road.
“We’re home, and that’s good,” Johnston said, standing on her porch and looking up toward the mountain to the east.
“This is not over,” she said with a hesitant tone despite expressing a feeling of security with her return home less than two miles from contained fire lines. “That ridge is right there.”
Paul Combs said he and Denise were going to leave the cars loaded in case the fire turns toward their home.
Paul Combs did, however, say he trusted the decision by Woodland Park and Teller officials. He mentioned the “army” of firefighters that incident commander Rich Harvey said were camping at the lines near Woodland Park and reminded everyone that bulldozers have been working hard.
“They’ve built what I call The Great Wall of Woodland Park,” he said with a laugh.
The order for mandatory evacuations came from Ensminger’s office and Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery on Wednesday, less than a day after flames stormed over the mountains and into neighborhoods in Colorado Springs.
The Combs and Johnston each mentioned their sadness when they saw Tuesday night’s devastation in western Colorado Springs.
“The most stressful part was just watching the fire, watching the TV,” Denise Combs said. “We’re some of the lucky ones.”