Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A City on Fire: Part I

       As many of my friends know I'm a Firefighter, but what most don't know is that my department also has two stations designated specifically as Wildland firefighting stations due to our larger urban interface. You see, Colorado Springs is where we call home and we have one of the largest urban interfaces in the United States.  This past couple of weeks it proved to be a great asset to have this versatility in our department. With the temperatures being so high and the moisture being so low, our Fire department (CSFD) implemented a Wildland Severity Patrol. This is a patrol in the treed and mountainous regions, or as most firefighters know it, the "urban interface" where some of our community have built their homes. On Saturday the 23st of July, this patrol proved to be an asset for our department because of a fire that started in the United States Forest Service (USFS) property and ended up threatening structures in a subdivision that was right up against the USFS boundaries. We were sitting down to lunch at around noon on Saturday when we were toned out for a wildfire west of Colorado springs which was growing rapidly.
The chiefs on duty set a large group of apparatus in the direction of the community that was first to be threatened. Upon arrival, we started doing what we were trained to do in the wildland arena. The first priority pointed out to us was to mitigate around the communication tower and water tank on the hill above the Cedar Heights subdivision. The reason for this was very clear. The communication tower is how the utility controlled the turning on and off of the pumps for the water tanks, and in addition to that, the tower was what we needed to communicate on our radios. So we headed up to this location to start cutting down trees and cutting brush around this critical assets. When we arrived, we were met by climbers and hikers. We immediately gave them directions to evacuate the mountain as we were pulling off chain saws to go to work. We had been cutting for maybe five minutes when the utility wildland groups chief showed up stating we need to clear the mountain because they were getting ready to paint the mountainside we were working on. Now when they say "paint the mountain," that means the heavy air tankers were getting ready to drop a slurry on the trees in front of the fire to try and stop the fire's progress. As we packed the saws up, the engine boss quickly took a couple of pictures of the fire as it topped the hill on the other side of the valley heading our way.  Now this is the biggest wildfire I have been on to date, and this actually gave me a true pucker factor!

        After returning to our safe zone (a place away from the fire where we could go for safety if the fire were to get to close), we were assigned to go down to Glen Eyrie to prepare it in case the fire were to reach Queens Canyon and make a run down to the castle. Once Glen Eyrie was prepped and ready, my unit was sent back to Cedar Heights above Glen Eyrie for structural protection. As the night progressed, we continued to triage the homes close to the fire front. As we prepped and triaged the homes, we watched as the fire start setting spot fires a mile ahead of the flame front! Spot fire are from embers and other burning debris floating through the air, landing in the dry brush and causing small fires that could grow into larger fires which then creates a bigger problem. As the night went by the breeze grew less and less. With winds becoming calmer, this allowed for my crew and a hand crew from the forest service, to go in and put the spot fires out before they became a threat to the Subdivision of homes. Along with the firefighters fighting the blaze, it would be hard to stop the forward progression of the fire without the dozer operators from city utilities cutting a fire break to put a break in the fuels (trees and scrub oak) and the unburned fuels close to the homes. As the night came to a close and daylight beginning to make an appearance, my crew and I decide to catch a little shut eye.  So with a designated lookout watching the fire, we laid back in the uncomfortable seats to try and sleep. This became a task in itself due to our feet, knees and legs aching so bad!  So with all this on the first night of the fire, we were finally relieved of our post at 11:00 A.M. the next day nearly 24 hours into the fight and many more days to come for a City On Fire!

1 comment:

  1. My legs are hurting just reading that last part. You guys were troopers from everything I read and heard. What an insane fire!! You guys are awesome for doing what you do.