A towering wildfire jumped firefighters’ perimeter lines and moved into the city of Colorado Springs, forcing frantic evacuation orders for more than 32,000 residents, including the U.S. Air Force Academy, and destroying an unknown number of homes.
The fire doubled in size overnight to more than 24 square miles fire information officer Rob Dyerberg said Wednesday.
Authorities held a morning press conference Wednesday and urged residents to stay indoors because the air quality has deteriorated. They also denied rumors that they’re aware of what started the fires.
“It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the fire late Tuesday. “It’s almost surreal.”
This area of Colorado is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. I lived at Ft. Carson for four years, and loved the area. It deeply pains me to see it go up in smoke, to say nothing of the disruption it is causing to so many thousands of residents.
I’ve heard rumors that many folks are upset that the large pool of manpower at Ft. Carson isn’t contributing troops to fighting the fires. I can understand that frustration. There was a time in the peaceful 90s, before the current high operational tempo, and the worst of the “peace dividend” when battalion after battalion would be tasked to support wildfire suppression efforts. But today’s troops just don’t have the time to do that and still train for their core warfighting mission.
And without proper training in fighting wildfires, using Army troops would place them at an unacceptable risk of death or injury.
We had a small grassfire on post while I was there. My platoon, tasked that day at the interior guard for the post, was instead called out to assist the post fire department in containing the fire. With no training, little equipment, and little supervision, we did the best we could. But our lack of training almost cost me my life. A few of us were trying to keep the fire from jumping from brush and scrub into a small copse of trees (roughly one acre). We failed. And since we didn’t have any training, we made a stupid mistake. Instead of going into the fire line, and through to the burnt area, we retreated into the treeline (hey, we’re grunts, we instinctively go into the treeline). That was the dumbest thing we could do. As soon as the fire reached the trees, it virtually exploded. My team and I were fortunate that an engine crew was in place on the backside of the trees to lay down a curtain of water for us to escape to. If they hadn’t been there, one or more of us almost certainly would have been injured or worse.
Soldiers join the Army to serve, and I’m sure any number of them would be honored to help their neighbors out. But just as we avoid sending untrained, ill-equipped troops into battle, let’s not risk them unnecessarily in firefighting either.