Update: At long last comes the announcement residents of Colorado Springs have been awaiting since June 23, when the Waldo Canyon fire flared to life.
The blaze, which destroyed 346 homes and took the lives of Barbara and William Everett, age 73 and 74, respectively, is finally 100 percent contained.
The good news popped up on the federal InciWeb page focusing on the Waldo Canyon blaze -- which is only appropriate, since the address has shared so many grim tidings over the past two weeks-plus. According to a news release, Incident Commander Troy Nelsen flew over the fire at about 6 p.m. and could not see any smoke arising from the Blodgett Peak area, the last section that worried authorities. As such, he designated official containment at 8 p.m. This doesn't mean an occasional puff of smoke from the interior of the fire zone should be cause for alarm, the feds note. The main concern was for sections on the margins, like Blodgett Peak, which had been smoke-free for 36 hours when the 100 percent containment designation was announced.
Not that the story of the Waldo Canyon fire is over. As we pointed out yesterday, the region is now susceptible to flooding and mudslides, among other possible consequences of violent deforestation. But the tale is moving into a new phase, as are the residents of Colorado Springs.
Look below to see outtakes by our Brandon Marshall from his June 29 "People of the Waldo Canyon fire" photo gallery, followed by our previous coverage.
Page down to see our much of our previous Waldo Canyon fire coverage, including photos and videos. Update 5:52 a.m. July 10: Hard as it is to believe, the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs is still not 100 percent contained -- not officially, anyway.
But the concerns of those on the ground has shifted from flames consuming more homes and costing more lives to the possibility of mudslides and flooding causing additional disruptions.
The most recent update on the federal InciWeb page dedicated to Waldo Canyon lists containment at 98 percent, and that number remains in place as crews on the ground (now numbered in the dozens, as opposed to well over 1,000) remain on the look out for smoldering areas. But all evacuations have been lifted, and the threat has diminished sufficiently that the senior administration representative who toured the blaze zone yesterday was Secretary of State Ken Salazar, not the President of the United States. As such, the number of homes devoured (346) and casualties (two) should represent the final figures. But concern now shifts to the potential damage rain of the sort the Springs experienced yesterday. As noted by the Colorado Springs Gazette, mudslides closed some roads and a number of neighborhoods experienced flooding. These events are considered fairly minor, but should heavier rains strike, the situation could get mighty serious mighty fast.
And while forecasters aren't calling for any serious gully-washers in the coming days, that doesn't mean all is well. As the National Weather Service's Steve Hodanish tells the Gazette, "This is just the beginning. It may last for years."
Look below to see more photos courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, followed by much of our previous coverage.
Update, 5:55 a.m. July 3: The cause of the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs remains under investigation -- but there's no question about its effect. The 346 homes lost to date make it the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.
But at last, there's reason to hope that no more dwellings, and no more lives beyond two confirmed fatalities, will be lost to the blaze.
The federal InciWeb page devoted to the event, updated late last night, provides two numbers that inspire optimism. First, 17,920, designating the number of acres scorched -- a shocking total, to be sure, but fewer than 100 more than yesterday's sum at this time. Secondly, 70 percent -- this digit pertaining to containment, which increased by 15 percent in just 24 hours. As pointed out by the Colorado Springs Gazette, the weather, which has provided some of the most nettlesome challenges for the 1,523 firefighters currently working the blaze, actually cooperated to a greater degree than has been typical since June 23, when Waldo Canyon first sparked to life. Not only were the temperatures more moderate (albeit still quite warm), but there was actually a splash of rain here and there. Hence, the conditions were ripe for progress, and progress was made. But for every sign of normalcy -- like yesterday's resumption of postal service for many of the areas that were off-limits prior to this weekend -- there were others that prove the situation is hardly back to normal. Note that some areas of the Pike and San Isabel National Forest remain off-limits, and on Monday, according to the feds, two helicopter water drops had to be aborted near Cave of the Winds because people had wandered into the fire perimeter. And then there's the grounding of federal C-130 aircraft being used to fight the fire in the wake of a fatal crash in South Dakota. Contracted aircraft will carry the firefighting load until the government fleet is given the go-ahead to take wing again. Today, the plan calls for the reinforcement and improvement of direct hand lines in several divisions, as well as rehabilitation of dozer lines throughout the fire zone. If containment continues to increase, some hot shot crews may even be released -- not that their job will be done. We remain in the beginning phase of the fire season, and it threatens to be a very long, hot summer.
Look below to see more extremely vivid photos, culled, like those above, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Flickr feed. That's followed by our previous coverage.
Page down to see our earlier coverage, including photos and videos. Update, 5:51 a.m. July 2: A corner appears to have been turned in the battle against the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, which last week surpassed the High Park fire outside Colorado Springs as the most destructive in the state's history. The blaze is now more than half-contained and the majority of evacuees have now been allowed to return to their neighborhoods. But the cost, including two lives and 346 homes, has been dreadful. According to the most recent update of the federal InciWeb page devoted to what's officially referred to as an "incident," the number of acres consumed stands at 17,827, and containment is estimated at 55 percent. Moreover, the number of houses destroyed has been revised downward, albeit by only one residence; on Friday morning, the total was put at 347.
Not that success is being taken for granted. The size of the force arrayed against the fire is currently 1,581, one of the largest totals since the flames began to spread on June 23. But as of yesterday morning, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office confirmed that the mandatory evacuations for the communities of Cascade, Chipita Park, Crystola and Green Mountain Falls had been lifted. In addition, Highway 24 was opened to both eastbound and westbound traffic for residents between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. After that, restrictions against nonresidents were lifted and access to Garden of the Gods park and attractions such as Cave of the Winds and the Cliff Dwellings was restored.
The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that around 3,000 people are still under orders not to return to their addresses -- meaning that more than 90 percent of evacuees are back. The U.S. Forest Service stresses that evacuations remain in effect for the decimated Mountain Shadows area, south of Wolf Ranch, west of Flying W and north of 30th Street. Forest Service reps note that what are described as "islands of unburned fuels" west of the U.S. Air Force Academy continue to burn and produce intermittent smoke columns. Nonetheless, line construction and burnout is complete along the Highway 24 corridor to Rampart Reservoir, with mop-up in progress and near completion in some areas. Meanwhile, hotshot crews and Type 1 initial attack crews are toiling along the north flank of the fire zone, with support from retardant-dropping aircraft. On Friday, President Barack Obama visited the Springs, praising firefighters and expressing empathy for the residents who've lost so much -- including the friends and family of the still-unidentified couple whose remains were found in the ashes. Look below to see photos from the stop, followed by our previous coverage.
Page down to see our earlier coverage, including photos and videos. Update, 5:53 a.m. June 29:Firefighters made progress against the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs yesterday -- enough to get a better sense of the destruction that took place the previous day. The number of homes destroyed had been estimated at north of 300, and that proved all too accurate. Thus far, 347 homes have been confirmed burned, and one person has died.
Thus far, authorities haven't named the victim, but the Colorado Springs Gazette reports that a person living at 2910 Rossmere Street remains unaccounted for. As of four o'clock yesterday afternoon, a handful of others were reported missing, too, raising the prospect of more casualties. But there's hope they've simply fallen through the cracks, as would be entirely natural given the scope of the evacuation; around 32,000 people have been displaced. The latest update of the U.S. Forest Service InciWeb page for the blaze, featuring information from late last night, puts the acreage consumed at 16,750, a number that's up from this time yesterday morning, but down from some estimates during the day as a result of more accurate mapping. Approximately 1,118 personnel are engaged in the battle -- the largest sum since the conflagration's start on June 23 -- and they had greater success in protecting structures yesterday than in the 24 hours previous. Still, the feds estimate that 20,085 residences and 160 commercial structures are still at risk of adding to the incineration total. On the positive tip, weather conditions that weren't quite as hot, dry and windy as before gave firefighters a chance to improve lines and actually do some mopping up along the Rampart Range Road, on the north flank of the fire -- and the Highway 24 corridor, which has been so devastated, was relatively quiet. As such, containment is up to 15 percent. But this accomplishment, achieved at a cost thus far of $5.2 million, is tempered by the understanding that these gains can't be considered permanent at this stage. Today, President Barack Obama is scheduled to tour the fire zone -- an indication of where the Waldo Canyon fire ranks among the blazes currently raging in several Western states. It's an honor Springs residents would gladly trade for a return to June 22.
Below, see the most recent map outlining the mandatory fire lines and several emotional new videos, followed by our previous coverage.
Page down to see our previous coverage, including photos and videos. Update, 5:58 a.m. June 28: This time yesterday, the High Park fire near Fort Collins had destroyed more homes than any Colorado blaze -- 257-- and it's still the official record holder. But no one expects this dreadful distinction to last. The Waldo Canyon fire, which is raging both inside and outside of Colorado Springs at this writing, went off like a bomb Wednesday, with officials currently estimating that 300 homes were engulfed. And that total is expected to grow.
According to the U.S. Forest Service-maintained InciWeb page for the Waldo Canyon fire, the amount of acreage consumed as of the most recent estimate is 15,517 -- well over double the 6,200 acres said to have been scorched just 24 hours ago. That's still modest in terms of square miles compared to High Park, but because the conflagration sparked so much closer to populous areas, it's caused even more damage, and done it with a speed that's left residents and observers positively stunned. The Colorado Springs Gazette is reporting that Colorado Springs Fire Department staffers have worked through the night canvassing numerous neighborhoods (including Mountain Shadows, among those thought to have suffered the most devastation) to determine which of the homes there will be habitable in the future, and which are total losses. The number of evacuees continues to stand at approximately 32,000, but the fact that this sum hasn't risen substantially provides little comfort to those who now await confirmation that their residence and belongings are lost. The weather conditions proved ideal to feed, rather than squelch, the flames, with temperatures in the nineties or above, fanning winds of at least 12 miles per hour and humidity registering an arid 8 percent. And forecasts for today predict more of the same. The number of firefighters battling on the lines and in the skies is estimated at 764, and containment continues to linger at a measly 5 percent. The feds don't expect full containment until July 16, and after what happened yesterday, that's starting to seem optimistic. The fire's growth potential and the terrain on which it's feeding are both described as "extreme."
Look below to see the most detailed map of the area released thus far, albeit one that's out of date -- it was shared early yesterday -- as well as the latest videos from users and the media. That's followed by our previous coverage.
Page down to see our earlier coverage, including photos and videos. Update, 6:26 a.m. June 27: The High Park fire near Fort Collins is still far from containment, but at least the number of people forced from their homes remains somewhat stable for the moment. Not so with the Waldo Canyon fire, which is rapidly encroaching on a wide swath of Colorado Springs, forcing a reported 32,000 evacuations yesterday, and destroying homes. How many we don't know yet because of the blaze's ferocious progress.
The federal InciWeb page featuring the most up-to-date data on the fire (new info was added late last night) lists the acreage consumed thus far at 6,200, a fraction of High Park's size. But this wildfire is all about location. It's so close to Colorado Springs, as well as the Air Force Academy grounds, that it very quickly forced thousands of locals to flee. And the hot, dry, windy conditions have only fed the flames. The U.S. Forest notes that Red Flag conditions and wind shifts caused the fire to reach the south side of the Rampart Recreation Area and reservoir, and burnout operations to protect structures couldn't halt it. Around 4 p.m. yesterday, the fire progressed west to east, crossing Queens Canyon and establishing itself on the east side of the Front Range, prompting evacuations for Mt. Springs, Peregrine and Westwood -- huge, populous portions of the state's second largest city. Given the nearness of the fire to Springs proper, thick smoke has made breathing difficult -- and for many, dangerous. Moreover, containment is at just 5 percent, meaning there's still plenty of room for the zone to expand. Hence, firefighters presently numbered at 764 (a sum likely to grow) are concentrating on holding Rampart Ridge Road in an effort to prevent the fire from moving to the northeast and east, while at the same time trying to protect structures along the community's west border.
Simply put, it's an awful situation that's a long way from resolution. Look below to see more photos from the area, followed by our previous coverage.
Update, 6:16 a.m. June 26: Even as firefighters are presently holding their own against the mammoth High Park fire outside of Fort Collins, everything about the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs is getting bigger. More acres burned. More firefighters on the scene. More concern for residents who live all too close to the blaze. And more containment -- but only a little more. The federal InciWeb page for Waldo Canyon, updated just eight hours ago at this writing, puts the number of acres consumed at 4,500 -- almost a thousand more than this time yesterday, when supervisors noted that plenty of vulnerable land was within reach of the conflagration's main body. As such, the number of firefighters has been bumped up from 450 to 600. And while it's too early to estimate the cost of the blaze to date, there's little doubt it's well into seven figures by now. The good news thus far is that no structures or lives have been lost. But that's counterbalanced by the fuel supply, consisting of short needle conifers and Western long needle pine with what the feds refer to as a "heavy dead load," plus steep topography, southern exposure that further dries the landscape, and flames that have reached thirty feet in height. Highway 24 from the Teller/El Paso County line to Manitou Springs, the Pikes Peak Highway and the cog train remain closed, and a pre-evacuation notice has been given to residents of Woodland Park south of County Road 213 -- and that's in addition to the thousands of folks who remain out of their homes. But containment has moved from zero to 5 percent, and given that the fire is expected to be very active today, every little bit helps.
Here are some new user-generated videos of the Waldo Canyon fire, followed by our previous coverage.
Page down to see our previous coverage. Original item, 6:34 a.m. June 25: The High Park fire near Fort Collins has dominated Front Range headlines for over two weeks. But it's hardly the only wildfire afflicting the state, and more are popping up with terrifying regularity. Case in point: The Waldo Canyon fire in Pike National Forest, which led to the temporary evacuation of an entire town, Manitou Springs, among a total estimated at 11,000 people.
Like the High Park fire, the Waldo Canyon fire has a federal InciWeb page devoted to it. At this writing, the acreage involved is estimated at 3,600 -- tiny in comparison with High Park. But its proximity to populous areas resulted in the aforementioned evacuations. And while Manitou Springs residents (about 5,000 of them) were allowed back into their homes after 8 p.m. last night, thousands more in the vicinity, not far from Colorado Springs proper, can't follow suit yet.
Meanwhile, Garden of the Gods Park, as well as the visitors center, remain closed, as do Highway 24 from the Teller/El Paso County line to Manitou Springs, plus the Pikes Peak Highway and the cog train, not to mention a slew of campgrounds, including the Farish Air Force Academy Camp and FS Springdale Campground.
Around 450 firefighters are already on the scene, further straining resources that have been depleted by High Park and other wildfires in Colorado. There's no containment thus far, but also none of the losses associated with High Park, as noted in this tweet from the El Paso Sheriff's Office, shared late last night.
#WaldoCanyonFire stats: 3600 acres burned, 0% contained. ZERO injuries.13,542 residences & 120 businesses threatened, 0 lost.
— EPCSheriff (@EPCSheriff) June 25, 2012
The feds expect the fire to remain very active today -- hence the impending arrival of a Type I incident management team. In the meantime, fire engines will be staged in evacuated subdivisions should structures be directly threatened. And there's certainly the potential of growth by 3,000 to 5,000 additional acres, with spread of the fire west into Cascade and Green Mountain Falls and south into Cedar Heights a disturbing possibility.
Look below to see another photo of the fire, followed by a slew of user-generated videos.
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More from our Follow That Story archive: "High Park fire update: 83K-plus acres burned, 248 homes confirmed destroyed."