Firefighters, residents train for the worst in Colorado Springs' Skyway neighborhood

By Garrison Wells Published: May 18, 2013 | 3:10 pm 0

At about 10 a.m. Saturday, kids played flag football at Bear Creek Park.

A couple planted flowers in the Skyway neighborhood above the park, while another family held a garage sale.

It was the start of a normal summer weekend.

Until the fire truck arrived in the Upper Skyway area.

As wildfire season settles in, the normally placid neighborhood was disrupted by an evacuation and wildfire exercise by the Colorado Springs Police Department and Colorado Springs Fire Department.

A year after the Waldo Canyon fire, there's an uneasiness in this neighborhood up the side of the Front Range. It's an area of wildlife, winding roads, scrub oak and expensive homes - fertile for a fire.

Speed limit signs in the neighborhood tell motorists to drive 25 miles per hour, then warn them this is a "Hillside Wildfire Risk Area."

The exercise "is good for the local folks," said Kevin Haddock, whose house is adjacent to one of two spots authorities picked for the faux wildfires.

Evacuation "was a very big concern of ours," he said. "We don't have a lot of ways out of here."

Police drove through the neighborhood alerting volunteer residents of a wildfire as part of the exercise.

Fire trucks and brush trucks arrived at about 9:15 a.m. and firefighters dismounted to fight a fake blaze threatening homes.

The exercise measured response, evacuation and coordination between the firefighters and police. It was the police department's job to control traffic as residents evacuated, while keeping the area clear for firefighters.

"Coordination is huge," said Battalion Fire Chief James Schanel. "It's very, very important. We call it counterflow."

The exercise went off "like it was supposed to," said Scott Simmons, one of the firefighters. He and firefighter David Watts were among first on the scene.

At a vacant lot between two homes, their goal was to protect the houses and quickly douse the fire. If it got out of hand, it could have raced up a drainage area behind the homes known of as a "chimney," Watts said.

"Our goal would be not to let it get in there," he said. "Quick attack is what we're looking for."

The concern in Skyway extends beyond the neighborhood's highest points, however.

Bobbie and Grant Taggard, who live on Orion Street at a lower level, were planting flowers and plants.

"The concern," said Grant Taggard, "is that from the moment a fire occurs, we have less than 45 minutes to evacuate."

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