By Andrea Stone (Fort Carson)June 20, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- For more than a week, firefighters from Fort Carson have been fighting the Black Forest Fire, and, as of June 19, four of them are still there.
At the height of the Black Forest Fire, up to 11 personnel from the Fort Carson Fire Department, Directorate of Emergency Services, and the wildland firefighting team from the Directorate of Public Works, two brush trucks, a water tender and a command vehicle were in Black Forest, said Glen Silloway, fire chief, Fort Carson Fire Department. One of the brush trucks remains.
The remaining firefighters may not be doing as much heavy firefighting now that the fire has been partially contained, but they're checking for hot spots and looking for hazards in structures that have been destroyed.
"They're still involved in making it safer up there," Silloway said of the remaining firefighters.
The primary objective for the firefighters was to get people evacuated and make sure everyone was accounted for.
"There were a number of rescues within the first 12 hours where they were waiting too long to leave their house. We had to send firefighters in and bring them back out a different route," said FCFD Capt. Peter Wolf, volunteer wildland fire chief for the El Paso County Sheriff.
The secondary objective was to triage the structures, he said.
"Is it salvageable? Is it savable with work? We're not going to risk firefighters' lives if the structure isn't savable," Wolf said.
If there was a chance the structure could be saved, the crew worked to clear combustibles from around the building and tried to protect the structure.
Some homeowners prepared ahead of time for the possibility of wildfire and had already worked to clear combustibles themselves. Some of those houses were savable without firefighters' work, but not always.
"We saw structures with a lot of heavy mitigation around them that we still lost," Wolf said. "All it takes is one burning pinecone that drops into a gutter filled with pine needles, and that structure's going to be lost."
With about 4,000 buildings to defend, fire crews had to make decisions on where to focus their fight.
"We push the resources where it's safe for the firefighters, but also where they can do a good job. If we can't make a difference, then we'll find someplace else to put them where they can make a difference," he said.
Last year, the department also sent firefighters and an engine to assist in Waldo Canyon, but one major difference in Black Forest is the addition of helicopter support.
"This year with the standing up of the aviation brigade, we had helicopters here who could respond immediately," Silloway said. "We've been training with (4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division) on both the communication side and the coordination side."
"(El Paso County) made the call within the first two hours. There were helicopters launching within 35 minutes, and they were engaged in firefight within the next hour," Wolf said.
Unlike the Waldo Canyon Fire, the Black Forest Fire was burning homes on the first day. In last year's fire, it didn't burn structures until the day it pushed down into the north end of Colorado Springs, Silloway said.
"This (Black Forest Fire) was a very dynamic situation with so many structures, and a large fire that's really not controllable with (only) ground assets," Wolf said.
"Just the amount of heat and the level of destruction (in Black Forest) was intense as it went through there, and to think that there were people trying to evacuate, still police trying to get them out of there with that level of fire, was intense," Silloway said.