Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Getting out fast can be a challenge in a Colorado wildfire

By Daniel Chacon Published: June 23, 2013

An evacuation plan for the tens of thousands of Colorado Springs residents living in neighborhoods prone to wildfire calls for quick and orderly exits.

But the plan acknowledges the unpredictability of disasters.

"The worst case is that there will be little or no warning to notify and evacuate the affected population," the 51-page plan states.

"According to the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan completed in March 2005, the 2002 Hayman fire burned at a peak rate of a + mile every four minutes. Most people, unless they are already in a vehicle and ready to evacuate, would not be able to escape a fire burning at that rate."

The key is preparedness, said Bret Waters, Colorado Springs Office of Emergency Management manager.

"Ultimately, the backbone of preparedness in a community is individuals and families being prepared and working as neighborhoods," he said.

"I've always looked at it as a partnership between local government and citizens," Waters added. "Both have to be pulling on this together and working together. If one doesn't do their job, it's not going to work."

That message has been emphasized by Pikes Peak region emergency officials after the Waldo Canyon fire a year ago in which about 32,000 people were evacuated, and again this spring because the threat of flash flooding increased because of the burn scar. And it was renewed as 41,000 people were evacuated this month as the Black Forest fire raged in El Paso County.

Fred Wisely, president of the Broadmoor Bluffs Homeowners Association, said he worries about the lack of exit routes in the southwest part of Colorado Springs, where narrow, windy roads lead to multimillion-dollar homes tucked away behind big trees and heavy brush.

"There are so few roads out of there," Wisely said. "That's a huge problem with any of these fires. It would be much worse in this foothill development. There's no doubt about it. Those fires, depending on the wind conditions, can rapidly move downhill."

In October 2011, the city conducted a wildfire evacuation drill in Broadmoor Bluffs. Although there were 437 participants, including firefighters, police officers and other first responders, only 26 households among hundreds in that area participated.

"We'd like for instead of 100 families that we'd have 500," Waters said.

Officials believe residents are more attuned to being prepared to evacuate after two destructive wildfires in one year. But living in the wildland urban interface comes with inherent risks, he said.

"It's a risk that we live in, and I think the concerns that I have overall are that we have to work together both mitigating the risk and working together on further planning," he said.

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Contact Daniel ChacOn: 476-1623 Twitter @danieljchacon Facebook Daniel Chacon

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