April 8, 2013
This is a transcription from a recording of Mayor Steve Bach’s remarks at a news conference April 3 after the release of the Waldo Canyon Fire Final After Action Report:
“Good morning; thank you for being here.
“I was there that night on June 26, with Gov. Hickenlooper. And I’ll never forget it. Capt. (Steve) Riker was leaning over a pickup truck as I remember, with a big map. And the fire was coming in sideways — the wind was literally coming sideways from west to east.
“He had soot all over his face. He had ash in his hair.
“I remember there were a lot of other firefighters there who had come back down to have their firetrucks refilled. They had big tanker trucks with water. A lot of police officers trying to control the intersection. I’ll never forget it.
“And (Colorado Springs Fire Chief) Rich Brown was there, and I said how bad is this? He said it’s hundreds, maybe thousands of homes. And we have no idea how many people.
“And I just stood there and watched Capt. Riker, calm and steady, I’d love to have a tape of his words that night. I heard you talking to your crews up there with fire all around them. Hanging in there and doing everything they could. And you’re my hero sir, honestly. And all the people you represent. And all the people that (Colorado Springs Police Chief) Pete Carey represents.
“Worst fire in the history of the state. Worst disaster in the history of Colorado Springs. Very sadly we lost two precious lives, but we saved a lot of others. We evacuated 20-some thousand people in three hours. It was chaotic, but they got out, I’m so proud of all those people.
“We didn’t have one incident of any conflict, of any I guess law enforcement issues. People in fact stopped at stop lights when we wish they would have gone through to get out faster.
“That’s one of our lessons learned. If you have to evacuate — certainly stop at a stop sign or stop light, but then proceed cautiously.
“But that’s a small point. It’s unbelievable what happened. And the way our people responded, I am so infinitely proud of everybody in our city. Colorado Springs Utilities did amazing things as well. As did the outlying communities that came to our aid. And the people of our community.
“I’ll never forget that Thursday night, that some of you were there. We met the people from Mountain Shadows over at UCCS to tell them whether or not they still had a home standing. And that was a very difficult night. And I asked our executive team, who had no training in grief counseling, or that kind of interface, to meet with all the residents. And we had breakout sessions, 100, 200 people in a room.
“I remember (Colorado Springs Fire Department Deputy Chief) Tommy Smith leading a session. I walked in and there’s this very emotional man, very upset as you can imagine; he’d lost his home. And here we’ve got a deputy chief, who’s trained to fight fires, who I thought was both a priest and a psychologist and just a dear friend to that man. And helped him through that grief, that moment.
That was so compelling, Tommy.
“And all of you on our staff, Laura Neumann and Pete Carey, Rich Brown, all of you. The way you handled yourselves, the way those people handled themselves — lost everything. And the grace they showed, and the resilience.
“And so many of them said, you know, Mayor, it’s just stuff. I’m alive; I still have my family.
“I’m so proud of those people. I’m so thankful and proud of everybody in this region. Care and Share raised 1 million pounds of food. United Way raised $1 million at a concert. People are still coming forward wanting to help in so many ways.
“I have to tell you (inaudible) … we’re going to have Arbor Day soon. We’re going to be in Mountain Shadows planting trees. We’re going to have hundreds and hundreds of people there to do that.
“And I especially want to point out Colorado Springs Together and Bob Cutter. I think it was Wednesday morning, about four4 in the morning — the next morning, after the fire blew up on us. Maybesix 6, I can’t remember. I called Bob Cutter, who I’d known for almost 30 years. Retired high-tech executive, community leader. I said, ‘I got to meet with somebody. I got to meet with you. I don’t know what to do. We don’t have a game plan for what to do now. The fire is being controlled, but we don’t have a plan for how to help all these people. How to restore this community.’
“And so he and I met, and he’s still out there — he’s a volunteer not being paid a penny. And he has surrounded himself with literally hundreds of people who wanted to help. And they’re still in Mountain Shadows, doing everything they can on behalf of all of us to help those people who have lost so much. I’m so proud of Bob Cutter and all those people. So thankful. I hope you’ll thank them as well.
“We lost a lot of homes, we lost, what, 346 or more homes. Many more damaged. But we saved â€¨82 percent of all those homes.
“We lost two lives very regrettably, but we saved a lot of others. And we had many, many of our people who could have died that night — you too, sir. You were right there in the wall of that fire, and you didn’t turn away from it. That’s the height of character to me. I’ll always respect you for that.
“Obviously going forward, we need to learn from this. Mitigation is critical. If this fire had started on Cheyenne Mountain, we would have lost thousands of homes and probably many more people. Anybody living west of I-25 certainly needs to be alert to the risk we continue to have.
“And pay attention to this. That this is going to happen again — hopefully not for hundreds of years — but it’s going to happen. And if it happens, many, many people are at dire risk.
“So mitigation is key. And I urge everyone who’s in a risk area to contact our fire marshal, at 385-5950,cq 385-5950,cq to schedule a meeting in your neighborhood. We’ll come out. We’ll tell you what we think you should do — do our best to help you every way we can.
“You’re going to hear more from other people about what we’ve learned and what we do in the future. I will say this to you: I very much appreciate Sens. Udall and Bennet as well as Congressman Lamborn, and certainly our Gov. Hickenlooper, who has been down numerous times. Has done everything possible to be of help to our community.
“And Sens. Udall and Bennet have proposed a scientific and comprehensive review of this fire — along with the High Park fire that occurred also last summer — as a follow-on study. We fully support that. And we are going to participate in that. And we will be asking City Council to fund that participation by us.
“I’m very confident in the results of this after action report. I’ve read it carefully. I believe that we did everything a reasonable man or woman could have in that situation, and more.
“But we have learned lessons. You’ll hear about some of them.
“I did not know that when people use their cellphones, in mass, that it jams the networks. Not until after the fire was out that someone mentioned to me — I think it was somebody from one of the phone companies — said, ‘You know what, you outta tell people to text message. It uses less bandwidth.’ Well, I got that right here right now; I hope I don’t have to use that data. But it’s in my brain now, along with telling people go ahead, stop at a stop light on the way out of there. But don’t stay there — move on if it’s safe.
“You’ll hear more about the ideas we’ve learned and improved for the future.
“I again, I just want to say how proud I am of this community. We came together as a result of this fire more than in my 46 years ever. And I think we’re learning from that. I hope we can maintain that cohesiveness, people (unclear) … other people.
“I see people every day all across this city who ask me, ‘Mayor, is there anything I can do to help Mountain Shadows?’ Still. I think that’s wonderful. So I applaud that and thank my fellow citizens. Thank you.”