COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - Firefighters battled a wildfire that raged on the edge of Colorado Springs and doubled overnight, forcing more than 32,000 people to leave their homes and choking off the largest wildfire in U.S. history in the Rockies region. As the wind drove the flames toward downtown, six planes used to fight the wildfire, one of six in Colorado, were diverted to Estes Park. About 1,500 residents of Woodlands Park, a city of about 1.5 million people, were evacuated when the monster fire more than doubled in size and a two-mile-wide wall of flames burned the back of a ridge, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said.
In total, the fire burned more than 110,000 hectares, mostly on national woodland, but strong winds and low rainfall prevented it from burning as far away from the city as it would have been possible in better conditions. While fires have ravaged the state and caused serious problems in other remote parts of California, the Ute Pass region has been spared large and devastating wildfires in recent years. The National Park Service called for aerial support for the first 15 hours of the reported fire when it became clear it was a "bad" fire that could get worse, said Mike O'Neill, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado Springs. When firefighters were able to contain and contain the fire, it burned for about an hour and a half and then again, according to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
Flooding has become one of the biggest natural hazards in the Ute Pass region in recent years, with more than 2,000 inches of rain in 2015 alone, according to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
The area was considered a serious threat when large parts of Woodland Park were evacuated during the Waldo Canyon wildfire, which burned 18,000 acres and destroyed 340 buildings. The fire is one of the worst in Ute Pass history, destroying a total of 346 homes and killing two people. It is also the most destructive fire in the state's history when it broke out in the area in July 2014, according to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Property damage and deaths made it the second-largest wildfire in Colorado history, until it was surpassed the following year by the nearby Black Forest Fire, which burned more than 500 homes. Also destroyed was the Utes Pass Fire, which burned about 1,500 acres of woodland near the town of Fort Collins, killing at least one person and two animals.
Covering 18,247 acres, the Waldo Canyon Fire dwarfed all other fires in size, but its rapid spread through Colorado Springs neighborhoods made it the second-largest wildfire in Colorado history, behind only the Black Forest Fire.
On July 17, 2012, the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association estimated insured losses at $352.6 million, and claims in the region ultimately totaled more than $450 million. On April 3, 2013, the City of Colorado Springs released a report on its response to the Waldo Canyon fire, which listed several areas where firefighting could be improved. Around 1000 residents and businesses in and around the forest park area were evacuated, but there were no serious injuries, no deaths and no damage to homes or businesses.
The NIST was supported by existing three-dimensional imaging from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Forest Service. Organizations like the National Park Service, Colorado Springs Fire Department, the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association and Unlimited Colorado have joined forces to create a 3-D model of the burned trees in the forest area of Waldo Canyon. This arose from a desire to demonstrate the Community's commitment to fire safety and damage reduction.
Woodland Park - Wildlife manager from the District, observed the blackened landscape still recovering from the Hayman Fire in June 2002. Wildlife officers from the CPW observed that elk and deer tend to stay relatively close to each other and feed on the new grasses and branches that have formed in the fire area. In February 2015, it was reported that there appeared to be no significant damage in the wooded area of Waldo Canyon, a popular destination for deer, elk and other wildlife.
The 35,000 people displaced by the Waldo Gorge fire will be allowed to return to their homes, but only if they return with their contents. People were ordered to evacuate by midnight and were directed to the Woodland Park Fire Protection District and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
DWM's Kroening took me back to Woodland Park to finish the tour, and I found myself at the site of the Waldo Canyon fire, which is located in Woodlands Park, by the wildlife manager of the CPW district. In May 2013, the US Forest Service opened about one-third of the forest areas affected by the fire, including the Colorado River Gorge and other areas hit by the Waldo Canyon fire last year. El Paso ordered evacuations after the fires crossed Highway 67 into the Manitou Experimental Forest in Teller County.