Three people rescued from fire near downtown

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The Colorado Springs Fire Department will be putting more emphasis on preventing fires on the city's western fringe, an area populated with 44,000 properties in what officials call the "wildland urban interface."

The department has been concerned about fires in the area generally west of Interstate 25 for decades, but Deputy Chief Rich Brown said Wednesday that it's receiving heightened attention now, following recent big blazes in Southern California and elsewhere.

Wildland, grass and brush fires increased 48 percent last year compared to 2007.

The 220 wildfires last year followed a relatively quiet 2007, so 2008 was a return to the more usual number, Brown said. He said firefighters are working hard to promote the department's FireWise program, which urges property owners to reduce fuel such as tree limbs that enable a fire to spread quickly.

The department is also examining plans for responding to wildfires, which include throwing massive resources at a blaze before it gets out of hand.

"If it overruns us, we want to look each other in the face and say we did everything we could," Brown said.

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While preventing and fighting wildland fires is the No. 1 priority for the department this year, Brown said a close second is ensuring apartment complexes are prepared if a blaze breaks out. The department will roll out a program in four of its 20 stations next month that entails helping apartment managers and residents develop fire plans and inspections of apartment buildings for fire safety problems. The initial program involves apartment complexes along Academy Boulevard.

Brown said the effort was not prompted by the January 2007 fire at the Castle West Apartments near Academy, which took two lives. But that arson illustrated the need for preparedness, he said.


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