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GUEST COLUMN: As we remember Waldo, strength, resiliency define our community

By: John Suthers
June 25, 2017 Updated: June 25, 2017 at 4:50 am
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On Monday, we will remember a tragic event in the history of Colorado Springs and surrounding communities as we mark five years out from the Waldo Canyon fire. That fast-moving wildfire damaged our community significantly, as it claimed two lives, destroyed 347 homes and impacted hundreds more, especially in the Mountain Shadows and Peregrine neighborhoods.

It was a catastrophic event that took a costly toll, but thanks to the brave and professional actions of our first responders, thousands of lives and properties were spared. A coordinated, multijurisdictional response evacuated 26,000 people in a matter of hours, while protecting homes in the fire's path and establishing fire lines that stopped it from expanding further into the city.

As a community, we owe a debt of gratitude to the many agencies from across Colorado and out of state that battled alongside our local first responders.

A remarkable thing happened in the weeks and months following Waldo - individuals and organizations citywide came together to help their neighbors in need.

People opened their homes and their hearts providing many of the basic necessities that were lost in the fire.

While these acts of service didn't lessen the damage we suffered, the compassion made the ordeal a little bit easier for those that experienced loss.

In true Colorado Springs fashion, the community also stepped up with an impressive outpouring of support and gratitude to our first responders.

Here at the city of Colorado Springs, then-Mayor Steve Bach did an admirable job beginning the long road to recovery. Mayor Bach engaged community leader Bob Cutter and others to form Colorado Springs Together, a service organization that was pivotal to rebuilding efforts. This citizen-led nonprofit group was dedicated to helping families navigate the maze of rebuilding and facilitated the return of many families to Mountain Shadows.

Today, Mountain Shadows is once again a majestic hillside neighborhood. Home by home, families began to return with 80 percent of homes rebuilt within the first two-and-a-half years. Today, 316 families have returned to their beloved neighborhood.

As we remember the tragic event we pause to mourn those who were lost, and we refocus on preparedness and prevention. We recommit ourselves to the continuing actions that will keep our community safer. We recognize that we are not immune, but that wildfire is a very real threat that we will likely face again in the future. It is up to us as a city to ensure we are as prepared as possible when that day comes.

To that end, city and CSFD employees continue to work with residents who live in the wildland urban interface to provide education and mitigation. Our emergency workers and first responders build on the valuable experience they gained during Waldo; improving our technology, training and tools to make us even better prepared to respond in the future. As the burn scar heals, volunteers and forestry workers plant vigorously to encourage revegetation that will help protect vulnerable areas from flash flooding.

Monday is Waldo Canyon Fire Commemoration Day, and I invite you to join in the celebration at Mountain Shadows Park as our community and elected leaders remember Waldo, recognize the response and recovery efforts and celebrate the resiliency of our community.

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John William Suthers is the mayor of Colorado Springs and the former attorney general of Colorado, U.S. attorney for Colorado and 4th Judicial District district attorney.

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