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WALDO CANYON FIRE: Mayor promises after-action review

By: RYAN MAYE HANDY
July 20, 2012
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photo - Cars along Centennial Boulevard near Rendezvous Trail during an evacuation June 26 as flames rushed into neighborhoods. Photo by MARK REIS/The Gazette
Cars along Centennial Boulevard near Rendezvous Trail during an evacuation June 26 as flames rushed into neighborhoods. Photo by MARK REIS/The Gazette 

After questions were raised about the city of Colorado Springs’ handling of evacuations during the Waldo Canyon fire, Mayor Steve Bach sent out a news release Friday announcing plans to release an after-action review of the incident in a few weeks.

“We want to learn all we can from an event like this,” he said in the release. “Our dedicated first responders performed superbly. We will continue to look at improving where necessary and building our strengths.”

In the statement, Bach said he was confident in the performance of firefighters and law enforcement members in assisting local residents. The release was a response “to a few media reports about the management of the Waldo Canyon fire,” but did not specify issues surrounding evacuation plans.

An article in Friday’s Gazette called into question the timing of mandatory evacuations for the upper streets of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood — evacuations that Bach announced at news conference just after 4 p.m., as flames were chasing fire crews away from homes.

Bach could not be reached for comment Thursday and Friday.

Bret Waters, the manager of the city’s Office of Emergency Management said Friday that there are four city officials who are authorized to issue mandatory evacuations: Bach, Fire Chief Rich Brown, Police Chief Pete Carey and Waters himself.

Waters could not explain why half of Mountain Shadows was emptied the weekend before June 26, leaving the upper regions of the neighborhood to make a rushed evacuation as the firestorm blew through. The portion evacuated later was the most heavily damaged.

Evacuation decisions were made after officials examined fire behavior reports, which were issued at the start of each day. From the outset, the fire behavior for June 26 was forecasted to be extreme.

“We relied on the Type 1 team and the fire department for fire behavior information,” Waters said.

Waters’ job was to implement the evacuation orders once they were issued by city officials.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

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