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Colorado scene: 'An epic fire,' one veteran firefighter says

June 28, 2012|By Tony Barboza

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Greg Heule fought fires for 28 years, but none compares to the furious blaze that raced down the mountains and into neighborhoods of Colorado Springs this week, destroying hundreds of homes.

“This one is an epic fire for the city,” said Huele, a retired veteran of the Colorado Springs Fire Department who is a spokesman for the 1,200 firefighters battling the Waldo Canyon fire. “It’s an epic fire for Colorado simply because we’ve never had a fire that impacted a large city like this in this magnitude.”

Evacuation orders have forced more than 32,000 people in the state’s second-largest city to pack up their belongings and leave their homes. The fire is just 5% contained and remains so unpredictable that investigators have not yet been allowed into the area to determine what caused it.

At least 18,500 acres have burned and that number is growing, though not as fast as earlier in the week, when 65 mph winds nearly tripled the size of the fire overnight, Heule said. The fire -- one of several burning in the state -- is considered the highest priority in the nation because of the potential for winds to again drive the flames into the neighborhoods around Colorado Springs.

Heule spoke with the Los Angeles Times on Thursday afternoon at a command post of tents and emergency vehicles assembled at a middle school. As he did so, the sky darkened, thunder began to roar, winds ripped and rain sprinkled down.

Such storms are a mixed blessing, Heule said. The moisture gives firefighters an edge as they try to establish a perimeter around the fire, but the thunderstorms whip up dangerous winds and lightning that can cause flames to spread. 

The precipitation offers only brief respite from temperatures in the 90s and is not expected to do much to alleviate the dryness of forest, grass and shrubs that have made Colorado ripe for wildfires.

“It’s still hot and dry other than a few of these thunderstorms now and again,” Heule said, looking up at a cloudy sky busy with firefighting airplanes and helicopters. “It would be nice if we got some good, soaking rain, but I don’t know if we’re going to our not.”

For now, he said, “Firefighters are redoubling their efforts out there to catch this thing and get it to stop. But it is by no means controlled or contained. There is a lot of work to do still and a lot of potential for it to go places if the right conditions are there.”

Authorities say it will be several weeks before the fire is fully contained. 


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