Waldo Canyon Fire Updates 6/29/12

KRCC's Andrea Chalfin on KPCC in California and Minnesota Public Radio: http://www.scpr.org/programs/patt-morrison/2012/06/28/27175/colorado-fire/


Click to enlarge map.

Official City map of the new Evacuation downgrades is available at the Colorado Springs website, here. (.pdf file).

Press briefing: 8PM

Evac lifts downgraded to pre-evacuation status as of 9pm:

Cedar Heights - open.
Garden of the Gods still closed.
Glen Erie - open.
East of 30th - open.
East of Centennial - open to go home, with the exception of a few neighborhoods, mostly cul de sacs east of Centennial.
Reed Ranch - evacuated
Cresta Benta - evac
Moccasin Pass - evac
Bluffside Terrace - open
South of Centennial Glen Drive Road - evac
Orchard Valley Road - evac
South and North Rockrimmon - open
Woodmen Valley - open
Timber Valley - open
Highway 24 remains closed between Cave of the Winds and Crystola

Rich Harvey, Incident Commander

Update: 4pm Press Briefing Posted 6:50pm

Greg Heule: (First sentences clipped form feed; audio posted asap)"...some specific information about some specific things, so we've got them in the mix today [referring to speakers at the press conference]. We'll start with Steve Cox, Executive Assistant to the Mayor of Colorado Springs; Rich Brown, Fire Chief, City of Colorado Springs; Pete Carey, Police Chief; Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities; Ron Perry, who's a public relations director for the US Postal Service here in Colorado Springs; Jerri Marr, Supervisor, Pike San Isabel National Forest and the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands; and then Rich Harvey our Incident Commander.

Steve Cox: "Thank you Greg, Steve Cox, I just want to run down a few things. A lot of activity in the last hour. Again, I want to thank everybody, especially the media, the way you handled the meeting last night that we had with the residents of Mountain Shadows and those impacted by the fire. You were sensitive to that and we appreciate that. Wanted to do some follow-up from that meeting last night and some of the items we'd talked to the displaced people about. One of the things that was very important to them was that they got back in at some point just to look at their property. Starting Sunday, we're going to do bus into that area for the people that were impacted by that fire. Now, we're putting out a press release, probably going out as we speak, it has some rules attached to it, so we would ask that you would listen to those rules. And it's just so that we can manage the situation. Just to give you a scale of what that is, it's about 4000 people. So, we're looking at 30 people per bus, you do the math, we're going to have a lot of bus trips. We'll divide that up by street so that we can get people together on like street and be as efficient as we can. What we anticipate is that you'll be able to look at your property, you're not going to be able to get out and walk around the property because we're still an active situation. We've not raised the evacuation, the incident management team has not raised the evacuation on the area. So, but, we want to be sensitive, we know people want to get their eyes on that. Another thing we talked about, we're a little bit slow today, but we've been merging data all day long... probably now or soon after this press conference, we will release on our website the list of the homes and the addresses. There won't be any names attached to those addresses. And we'll also release the map. we still operating at about that 346 home number that we gave you, give or take one or two. Along with that, it was real important...many people... we had about 6500 people register their names and their email addresses on our website. So, we're going to regularly give phone messages and emails. Now, those won't be individualized to the person, but we'll get those out and update those on a regular basis. We received a lot of questions from the session last night. So, we created a Frequently Asked Questions list--FAQ list--so that will also be posted. So, we answer a lot of your questions, a lot of the citizen's questions that we heard last night. So, we'll have that posted and update them regularly. Brett Waters isn't able to be here. We haven't changed the evacuation, we talked about adjusting those today and we're not going to that for this operational period. Thank you."

Rich Brown: "Good afternoon, Rich Brown, Fire Chief Colorado Springs. You know exactly what Steve Cox talking about... I know... I know the whole term patience just kind of really wears thin on people. But, we just left there a few minutes ago and, again, I'm not saying the fire's active, but with the wind shifts the way it is, you can look up on the ridge line like right now over your head see that how it's now coming into the city again. I'm not saying that we've got a problem active right now in the city, but we just left there a few minutes ago... there is still some areas of concern up there and we're just pleading with people to have some patience while we work through this. This is a stubborn situation that we're dealing with. One that I really want to emphasize, actually two things, again the city's operating fine, we've had a lot of calls for service. Chief Silloway is here from Fort Carson. A lot of his people have been entrenched with our people as well as all over the state of Colorado resources are here back-filling our stations while we're fighting this with them. I just want you to know, for what it's worth, and I think it's worth a ton, 81% of the homes that area were saved. And I'll give you a couple of examples of how that happened. I just left the scene a few minutes ago. A lot of areas look like some of the wooden stairs going up to the house were on fire. The stairs were torn away from the house, preventing those stairs from burning and actually catching the house on fire. The was rugs, things like that out on decks that were torn away that would have caught the house on fire had that not been done proactively. I just want you all to know that our heart aches for people that lost their lives and/or people that lost property. It aches... but there's 81% of those that were saved. And there was a ton of people that were evacuated by CSPD and all the brothers and sisters that helped out there from the police department. I want us to try really hard... try to emphasize the positive that has happened from this event. Thank you."

Speaker not introduced, represents Fort Carson: "Just basically from one of the agencies that's in assisting on this fire and this event with Fort Carson Fire and Emergency Services, we have had from the onset personnel involved, Type 3 Engine up in the Cascade area, we've had an Engine Company back-filling in station four and we've had task that's been involved in, Tuesday night, in the northern edge of Colorado Springs for structure protection and then currently is still up on the Air Force Academy involved in that operation. 25 of our personnel on Fort Carson involved in that operation, and we did a full call-back on our staff to continue our operations on Fort Carson and in the surrounding community for mutual aid. And with that, we actually went out and touched the department of the army and we have eight additional firefighters coming to Fort Carson coming from Fort Hood and Joint Base Lewis and Court (?) to give us some relief, so we can start giving our firefighters some breaks as well. So, we continue in the fight with the rest of the agencies, which is a great partnership and, again, we're just one of the agencies of the many that are involved in this operation.

Pete Carey, Police Chief CSPD: "Last night I reported that the remains of one human being was discovered in the debris of a home at 2910 Rossmere Street. That home was destroyed by fire. This morning, members of the Colorado Springs Police Department resumed their search at that same location. I'm sorry to report that the remains of a second human being were discovered. As you probably recall, the initial information that you received yesterday was that two people were missing from that address. Family members were advised of the second discovery this afternoon. Out thoughts and prayers are with them. This is an ongoing investigation and I can't comment on this any further. I don't have any information about any other missing people. Thank you."

Jerry Forte with Colorado Springs Utilities: "All utilities, including the power to keep refrigerators and freezers on have been in service throughout this event in all the areas that evacuees have been allowed to return to. However, the only place where gas and electric has been interrupted is in the Peregrine area, Mt. Shadows west of Centennial and Oak Valley Ranch, which are still evacuated. All electrical service will be fully restored before evacuees are allowed back in. It's important to stress that this still a very active fire. The situation is incredibly fluid. Yesterday, some of our crews were allowed to get into some of the evacuated areas where the fire had impacted, to begin the restoration process. But, this afternoon, they were again pulled off for their safety at the request of the local fire folks. We've been actively engaged in this fire since it began on Saturday. Yet, in a lot of ways, our biggest challenge is really ahead of us as we help our friends and our neighbors return to their homes. We have 4200 customers whose gas we shut off Tuesday for the safety of our firefighters and the public. And, we're doing everything we can to get those back into their homes as quickly as possible. But, customer safety is our number one concern. It's important for our crews to get in there first to ensure the integrity of our systems. With a gas line, when you evacuate it, then fill it back up, it's kind of like a balloon, where there's real problems integrity. It's the pressure in the line that actually maintains that, and so there can be cracks in the system. All that needs to be tested, so that we can ensure that there won't be any leaks. Then after the mains in the street are determined to be secure, we then have to go basically house to house with homeowners as we check inside to make sure there are no gas leaks. We then help relight pilots and help them get back in to their houses. That's gonna take some time. And we are not engaged with lots of other utilities who have folks who have these very specialized qualifications to help us as we are able to begin to get people back into their homes. We're doing the best we can with all the available resources that we have, but in some of the severely damaged areas, we have to rebuild entire parts of the gas system. Some of that we still don't know because we haven't been able to complete the condition assessment. We'll be working around the clock; we'll be working tomorrow and Sunday and everyday from now on to get people back in as quickly as possible. I want to encourage people that want to follow the progress of the utilities system restoration to look on our website CSU.ORG for more information."

Ron Perry, US Postal Service: "I'd like to open up by saying that our hearts and prayers go out to all the people in this community who were affected directly and indirectly by the fire, to include our employees. Our number mission is still to get the mail to everybody, every day. There's a lot of changes that have come down and a lot of changes still to come. With that being said, I'm going to get into the most recent changes that there are. If you live in the Air Force Academy, 80840, you're back to normal operations. If you live in Kissing Camels, and your zip code's 80904, you're back to normal operations. The folks in Holland Park, 80907 area, you're back to normal operations. If you live in the Rockrimmon area, it's little bit of a trick. If you're in that lower Rockrimmon, we are attempting to make what deliveries we can; if you'r in the upper Rockrimmon, your mail is to be picked-up at the Templeton Post Office, 4356 Montebello Drive. Phone number there is 719-266-6033. If you're in the Cascade area, or Cedar Heights, your mail will be picked-up at the west end retail unit 204 S. 25th Street. Phone number there 719-473-6513. If you're in the Woodland Park Green Mountain Falls area, your mail is to be picked up at the Divide post office. 66 South Highbrook Road (?). 719-687-5187. We're doing everything we cal to get everyone's mail to them, but there are people already who are looking for medications, checks, and possibly insurance documents. So, it's important that this information gets to those folks. Not everybody has internet, not everybody's watching TV, and some folks aren't even having the radio piece. So, we've got this information at all the post offices here in Colorado Springs. We have it at the command center, it's at all the TV networks, USPS.COM/news. El Paso County's website. Also, we have it at all the shelters. I need to switch lanes for a second. Those of you that have lost structures, the postal service is advising you if you have another alternate location to have your mail go to, to put in a change of address. You can get those at a local post office, you con onto USPS.COM, or you call our 1-800 ASK USPS, which it 1-800-275-8777. If you don't have an alternate address, go to a local post office, where ever you want your mail to be rerouted and inquire about the possibility of a post office box. But, we encourage you to get your mail to the next location that you want it to go to based on fact that you may be out of your home long term. And, with that being said, we appreciate everything everybody's doing.

Jerri Marr: "First of all, I just want to talk to the families of those who've lost loved ones... I want to tell you that on behalf of all the organizations that are here involved fighting this fire, on our behalves, that we are deeply saddened by your loss and that you will continue to be in our hearts and our prayers and our thoughts. I just wanted to say that first before we get started. With that, I wanted to talk about the fire. So today, no matter where you were, you probably saw that column of smoke up there. And, when seeing that big column, I'm sure a lot people probably got you wondering and thinking which way is it coming, what's going on, you know, where is that. That big plume is really, that's us. It's firefighters, it's a firing operation used to help support the ground troops and Rich is gonna talk a little bit more about that when he gets there. But, that's where that plume is coming from and he's going to get into more detail about that. I happy to say today, you know this morning we talked about the weather was gonna be good and if we could stay with this type of weather we ought to have some more success. I'm proud to say today that our containment have increased and right now, this is before all of the firefighters, the men and women, get back in and we hear from everybody, we're at 25%. And, so, we're really pleased with that and hoping to have another good day tomorrow, too. Temperatures are gonna go up, but we are still making progress. We have a long way to go. There's still a lot of heat in this fire. There's still a lot of smoke and things we're going to have to watch out for. But, we are making progress. And, we're going to continue doing that. With that I want to have Rich talk more specifics today about the operations that that went on and what our plans are."

Rich Harvey: "Thanks Jerri. She told you the big news: 25% containment, and left me to explain the bad news: the smoke that's sitting up there on the hill. So, let me show you guys what we've got going on here. For last couple days we've been talking about how to find a way to stop this going to the north, right? (Points to map at fire area north of Cascade) Told you we've got crews in here working, trying to get hand lines on this piece. You can see how jagged it is. Like this. (Points to spread fingers on his hand). So what the crews did is they kinda cut a line along the top so they could burn out those little areas. That's the smoke that you see, a more solid line here, just burning out that little pocket in there. (He's referring to a section of small ridges above Cascade) Okay? We've got favorable conditions with the clouds. A little bit of wind at their back. They're gonna take this; they're gonna straighten it out a little bit. Straighter lines are easier to hold, saves on the wear and tear on the crews and we feel more confident that we have a line that we can contain and hold. So we got some crews firing in here, and the other crews, there's three hot shot crews that are dropping off the nose of this right now headed for highway 24. They expect to have that line completed tonight. Take advantage of the cooler temperatures at night to mop it up. Those crews in that division will be doing what we call spiking out. They'll be sleeping in the dirt on the line with one eye on the fire and one eye their fellow firefighters so that can get up in the morning first thing and strt getting their licks in before the fire wakes up. We'll make they set their alarms nice and early. The other smokes that you've been seeing a little bit of are what we call these islands. What they are is they're unburned pockets of green out in the middle of the fire. And we have not yet gotten to point where we can commit resources to going internal to the fire, mopping up those islands. All of our forces are currently deployed making sure the perimeter stays exactly where it has for the past two days. I'm happy to report the perimeter has stayed exactly where it's at for the last two days. No acreage growth today. The only thing that grew today was our containment. 25% No additional strutters lost. And also happy to report, no firefighters injured today. So we had a good day out there and we're making progress in the right direction. We still have some work to do. Up in here, we haven't been able to get a lot of boots on the ground. (Points to map, area east of Rampart Reservoir.) The reason is, it's pretty steep. We've been using the retardant in there real heavy to keep that fire stuck up on the ridge. And, again, like I said, it hasn't moved. We're getting confident that we going to able to get it cooled down enough that we can go in there with boots on the ground and start to put the final licks on the mop up in there and move the black containment lines further around. So, the way it stands now is you see some smoke from the firing operation (firefighters burning areas) that we think will be successful in completely the and stopping the spread to the northwest. I think the folks in Woodland Park and Teller County will be happy to know that this line is anticipated to be in tonight (points to area above Cascade) and that these containment lines are still there (above Crystola). These have all held and there's no [northwest] movement of the fire in this direction. And there's no movement of the fire in this direction, everything is inside the line, except for these burns. And just for FYI, the reason we're not concerned about interior islands is they're exactly that; they're well inside any forecast projected or likely spotting distances. They're just not worth the time and effort at this point and time to go mop up those islands. As we get into this incident a little bit further, and we have those containment lines locked in we know that those green islands represent acreage, trees, watershed value, wildlife habitat. We're not ignoring them. We intend to go do as much as we can to save as much green property up there as possible. Right now we are really focused on the perimeter of this fire and the communities that surround it could be impacted if we were to lose those lines. "

Press Briefing 8AM, UCCS, posted 10:35am

Greg Heule, Public Information Office Waldo Canyon Fire: "I got a couple announcements I'd like to make. We are having a media tour at 1 o'clock. I'd like to get together with those that are interested after we get done here, I'll be here for a while, so you get your interviews afterwards, then come see me and we'll let you know what activities will be involved. Also we'll have available an opportunity to interview some firefighters down at fire station number nine. And we'll coordinate that effort with you as well when we get done with the briefing and you get done with your interviews, okay? We'll work that process out at that time. So this morning...[I'm] Greg Huele, Public Information Officer Waldo Canyon Fire, we will have five speakers: Steve Cox, exec assistant to the mayor of Colorado Springs; Amy Lathen, chair of county commissioners El Paso County; Brett Waters, director office of Emergency Management City of Colorado Springs; Jerri Marr, Supervisor Pike San Isbel National Forest and Comanche National Grasslands; and Rich Harvey, Incident Commander for Waldo Canyon Fire."

Steve Cox: "Thank you Greg. Steve Cox, I work for the mayor Bach and his executive team. Mayor Bach couldn't be here this morning, I wanted to tell you why. But first we wanted to express our condolences to family of the deceased member that was identified yesterday. We're not going to answer any questions about that other than the police chief may give you the address again of where that happened. But we want you to know how sad we are for them, and would ask that you respect their family in their time of need. The Mayor today, just to give you a brief itinerary, just to give you an idea of the things that he'll be working on, first and foremost he's going to meet with the President today. He'll be provided a list of questions to ask the president. But, most of those will be around what can the federal government do for the City of Colorado Springs. He's concerned; he's put a task force together and working on the business community, how we can help the business community to get back up and running. Because it's important that people get in to their businesses, for one, and then get their people back to work. So, that's important, too. Working on recovery plans, where do we go from here? He'll be working on that today. And just want to speak briefly about the meeting last night with the families. As you know, we brought the families in. I just want to thank you for respecting them. It was a good meeting. It was an opportunity for people to... that didn't already know, to hear about the status of the property and it was moving, it really was. People were emotional, as you can understand, and it was just a difficult time for a lot of people. We appreciate the media's help in respecting that today, or last night. With that, I'll turn it over to the next speaker."

Amy Lathen, Chair of El Paso County Board of County Commissioners: "I just want to begin today by expressing on behalf of all of us at the county our condolences to those not only, obviously, who have lost a family member in this, but who have lost so much in terms of homes and everything that they're going through. It is our mission, or goal, at the county to be available for absolutely anything that anyone needs. We have services, as we have mentioned, as we've gone through this, all of our services are available to citizens are still up and running. We will be getting back into our Citizen Service Center on Monday. And, all of the services that the county has to offer, through all of our offices and departments are available and we're making sure that those are here for all the citizens. To that end, El Paso County has been working in conjunction with the department of local affairs with the state, with the City of Colorado Springs, all of our mutual aid agencies to stand up a disaster recovery center. That Disaster Recovery Center will open tomorrow morning at 9AM. That will be housed at the former Department of Human Services building at 105 North Spruce. It will open tomorrow morning at 9am, it will be open daily from 9AM to 7PM. There will be access to services ranging from assistance in filing insurance claims. There will be a number of insurance companies available there. There will be grief counseling. There will be services all related to rebuilding our community and helping those who are in need. Groups that will be located at this disaster recovery center will include the insurance companies, county health department, regional building department, Pikes Peak Behavioral Health, Veteran's Services, the United Way, faith-based organizations and many many others as we are continuing today to bring all the partners in. I want to simply... Monnie if you could just step up so we can put a face with the name, Monnie Gore has been named the director of operations at our Disaster Recovery Center, as to this is man you will go to and he will be working will all of our agencies, everyone involved, to make sure these services are available to our citizens. Everything that we are doing here at the county, everything that we are doing is related to helping the citizens of this county who are in need. We thank all of you for your support and your help through this."

Brett Waters, Emergency Management Director for the City of Colorado Springs: "A few updates for you this morning. Our current numbers for the shelters are Cheyenne Mountain School is 168, YMCA is 68, and also Lewis Palmer we have 39. Those shelters remain open. I as mention that disaster recovery center that was mentioned by commissioner Lathen... that' san important mission for the City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County to make sure the residents of Colorado Springs are taken care of. We gonna work together to make sure that happens... to make sure make sure we're working together on that situation. We were happy last night at 6pm to lift many of those mandatory evacuations, so residents and businesses... get them back to work and people back home. We going to continue to look at that this morning as we look at the fire behavior and talking to the Incident Commander, who you will hear from in a few minutes, we'll continue to do that safely, as we continue to get people back home as quickly as we can and get businesses back to work."

Jerri Marr, USFS: "First I want to say, on behalf of the whole team, all of us on the are command, we truly empathize with everyone who has heard of loss, yesterday, of their home and for the family members of those that are part of that fatality. We're working really hard to move forward with putting this fire out. Last night when I was at the meeting here, a lot of people wanted to know where are we today, how close are we getting, you know, to putting this fire out. There was a young man, he's 13 years old, his name was Tristan, I told Tristan I'd say hello today, good morning Tristan, hope you're watching. We're going to talk about what we're doing today and the success that we had yesterday. So, yesterday, we had great weather. And you can look out there today. Once again it looks like we're going to had that same weather again today. Our firefighters, the men and the women that are part of firefighting force, worked really hard yesterday. As a result of that, if we just look here at the map in division C (points to map) made great strides yesterday and they're very excited about that. We're able up our containment now to at least 15%. And I know people may go, '15%?.' 15% is a lot based on the type of terrain that we're dealing with here today. We feel, with a lot of confidence, based on the weather that we'll be able to up that number even more by the end of the day. Our folks are very excited about getting in there and we're gonna make a lot of progress. More specifically, about what we're doing today, what our plan of attack is, Rich Harvey, our IC, is going to share that with you.

Rich Harvey, Incident Commander: "I'd like to start off by saying that firefighting community is deeply saddened by the news that has been coming out of Colorado Springs. Hearts of the firefighters go out to all those affected by wild land fires, not just in Colorado Springs, but El Paso County and communities all across Colorado and the west. That said, our focus remains on this fire--the Waldo Canyon Fire. And, as Jerri said, the firefighters made really good progress last night. No perimeter growth at all to report, no additional structures lost or damaged. We're feeling really good about that. I'll show you on the map a few things that we have specifically to share with you. For the first time you begin to see those black containment lines showing up along the Highway 24 corridor. This is hard perimeter that is contained. We are confident that that is a solid barrier, and there will be no spread of the fire over those black areas (pointing to Hwy 24/Ute Pass on map). The indirect line that I talked to you about yesterday (pointing to perimeter of fire that curves west, then east, above Cascade to Rampart Range Road), including those hot shot crews, I talked to their supervisor this morning, and they're confident that they'll be able to get this portion of the line in today. This line here along Rampart Range Road and up around the reservoir held last night with no movement at all. This contingency line here, several of them, remain in place as we speak (points to area above Crystola to Rampart Range Road). We're still confident here (points to above Cascade). Moving around this way to spot fires (points in circling motion to spot fire northeast of Rampart Reservoir) that we had that came across the reservoir. Those spots fires have been lined. We have crews on them as we speak. Dozers, crews and aerial assets committed to those. Coming into here following what I call the power line road... i think ... creek as well. Firefighters are making progress on that from both sides (points to area along Rampart Range Road). The MAFFS and other aircraft we used along this ridge line to hold the fire up there. The fire had no spread as a result of those aerial activities. Working around this way. We have crew in all this area, trying to connect it down to here (points to Queen's Canyon area down to Mt. Shadows area). This line construction is going fairly well. We are a little concerned still because the weather forecast this is where we're on the receiving end of the winds that we do get. It's supposed to be lighter. But this would be a focus because of the wind direction for the day. Mop up efforts and work in here continues to be successful (pointing to areas west of Mt. Shadows), as as coming around on in here (points to area above Cedar Heights). We still have that one pocket here above Cave of the Winds that I told you about. We're not able to get to get ground troops in on (Pointing to area above William's Canyon). We're confident we can keep it there with aerial resources. But we've got definite eyes in the sky on this one particular place. So the focus for today is to hold what we've got, improve the lines that we have in place, use aerial assets as necessary to support the troops on the ground and bring in the heavy equipment when we can to further enhance our ability to put muscle down on the ground in front of this fire and keep it in its containment lines."

Question highlights:

Update on the number of people who are missing: Police Chief Carey: "Can we get an update on the number of missing people in the effected burn area. We're looking at relatively small number of people and we're still dealing with incomplete information form family members... We're looking at a number of less than 10."

Latest official statistics: 16,750 acres; 15% containment. 1,118 Personnel fighting the fire. One residential fatality. Cause is still under investigation.

At the Air Force Academy, Enlisted Dormitory residents may return to the dormitories effective 5 a.m. Academy officials have deemed it safe for residents of the Pine Valley and Douglass Valley housing areas to return to their residence effective 5 a.m.