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Colorado fire now under control

Published: Thursday, July 5, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

After nearly a month of intense efforts to battle wildfires in Colorado, firefighters have contained most of the blazes, including the deadly Waldo Canyon fire around
Colorado Springs.

The fires, which have been called the most destructive in the state’s history, have destroyed nearly 350 homes and left at least three people dead. The first fire ignited June 9, and was followed in the weeks after by a number of other blazes, resulting in millions of dollars in damage and the displacement of more than 30,000 people in the state.

Senior telecommunication media studies major Joe Terrell, currently in Colorado Springs for an internship, witnessed the devastation firsthand when he was forced to evacuate from his host home after fires came dangerously close.

“The fire came within a couple blocks of the house I’m staying in,” Terrell said. “The sound the wind made when it changed directions was unlike anything I’d ever heard. The evacuation was pretty chaotic for a while — people and animals just trying to get away from the fire as fast as they could. It’s a miracle that more people weren’t killed by the time they got it under control.”

Wind is one of the most dangerous aspects of a wildfire as it is unpredictable and can change the direction of a spreading inferno without warning.

“The conditions were perfect for a firestorm the day I had to evacuate, and that’s pretty much exactly what happened,” said Terrell.

    Local firefighters were joined in their attempts to contain the fires by National Guard troops and cadets from the nearby Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs and was briefly threatened by the Waldo Country fire. Firefighters used every tool at their disposal to beat back the blazes, using shovels and chainsaws to stop the spread of fire on the ground and planes and helicopters to drop payloads of fire extinguishing fluids from the air.

    One of the main tools of the Air Force’s firefighting operations, the C-130 tanker plane, was briefly grounded after one of the fleets crashed in South Dakota during firefighting efforts, resulting in the death of four airmen. The fleet’s remaining C-130s, capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of water or fire-retardant chemicals, returned to firefighting service July 3 after a brief suspension. The tanker planes are often called into action when civilian firefighting planes are not enough to contain fires.

Residents of Colorado Springs and other areas affected by the fires began to return to what was left of their homes and towns earlier this week, though thousands remain displaced. Even though the largest fires in the state have been for the most part contained, potentially treacherous weather in the state means Colorado is not out of danger yet.

    “The fire potential is still very, very high. It’s extreme and explosive,” Incident Commander Rich Harvey told the Associated Press on Saturday, while firefighters continued to make progress combating the fire.

Colorado Springs is known to be the most lightning-strike areas of the country, and the dry climate and frequency of thunderstorms in the area contribute to the heightened potential for wildfires in the state. The cause of the Waldo Canyon fire is as of yet unknown.

Currently large wildfires continue to burn in Utah, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and California, in addition to the fires that are not yet contained in Colorado and the previously mentioned blazes in South Dakota. Though summer is always the most dangerous time of the year for wildfires, dry conditions make the chance of a large fire breaking out much higher than they would be otherwise. Last year’s prolonged drought in Texas resulted in massive wildfires around Bastrop and the central area of the state.

 

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