When the first plume of smoke rose over Waldo Canyon at noon on Saturday, June 23, it was obvious big trouble was brewing in the Pike National Forest just beyond the west edge of Colorado Springs.
As firefighters raced toward the mushrooming wildfire, I went the opposite direction to the newsroom of The Gazette, knowing our skeleton weekend crew would need help.
I wasn’t alone. Soon I was joined by editors, reporters and photographers who also abandoned their weekend plans to attack the fire — some racing to the scene, some jumping on the phones and others feeding everything we learned to our readers at gazette.com, Facebook and Twitter.
We had no idea the Waldo Canyon fire would become an inferno that would explode down the foothills on June 26 killing two people, destroying about 350 homes in Mountain Shadows, and consuming 18,250 acres.
We simply knew it was a big story we had to cover.
It didn’t matter we had to work around the clock.
Or that several of us were among the 30,000 evacuated from their homes.
And it didn’t matter that we had neither an editor nor publisher here to direct us.
I was tremendously proud of my colleagues for the quality of our coverage.
What a bunch of pros.
I kept thinking about them Friday as I learned The Gazette had been bought by Anschutz Corp.’s Clarity Media Group.
As our new chairman, Ryan McKibben, was telling us what we could expect from our new owners, I wanted to tell him what Clarity can expect from us.
This building, which resembles an old warehouse inside and out, is filled with hard-working, dedicated people who care deeply about our profession, about Colorado Springs and the folks who live here.
None of us became journalists to get rich. Trust me.
In this building, I’m surrounded by good people who believe in our mission to be the indispensable source of news in the Pikes Peak region. We might tell you things you don’t want to hear, but it’s our duty to tell the truth, even if it hurts.
We also try to enrich the lives of readers and even entertain them.
This paper has a rich tradition of award-winning journalism, best exemplified by Dave Philipps, who was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.
And we have a plaque on the newsroom ceiling where a champagne cork hit during a celebration of a 1990 Pulitzer victory.
As Dave likes to say: We are the oldest business in the region. We existed before Colorado was a state. We’ve been here so long we reported Indian attacks as breaking news.
So we’ve been doing this a long time and doing it pretty well. I’m confident we’ll do more great work under our new ownership.