Defense Update: Our Military Fighting the Colorado Fires (UPDATES)
A helicopter drops water on the wildfire burning in Waldo Canyon on the U.S. Air Force Academy outside of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 27, 2012. The fires, which have burned more than 15,000 acres, began spreading to the southwestern corner of the academy, causing base officials to evacuate residents. Officials estimated that the fire had spread to about 10 acres of land belonging to the Academy
Late Wednesday night, Air Force Academy officials announced they were relocating about 550 cadets off academy grounds.
About 200 cadets in summer academics were being moved to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and 350 others in airmanship and other training programs were released to local sponsor families, the school said. The cadet area isn’t immediately threatened, and an incoming class of more than 1,000 is still scheduled to arrive Thursday.
About 120 soldiers from nearby Fort Carson built firebreaks around parts of the academy, aided by equipment including 10 heavy bulldozers, four excavators, 13 military transportation and support vehicles, and one commercial road grader, Army officials said.
We have all been watching in horror as the Colorado wildfires continue to rage out of control charring tens of thousands of acres surrounding Colorado Springs, forcing more than 32,000 people from their homes and now “nipping at the edges of the U.S. Air Force Academy.”
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called the firestorm threatening his city – in a metropolitan area of more than 650,000 people – “a monster” and said at this point flames were “not even remotely close to being contained.”
The fire, which has charred 15,517 acres in the shadow of the famed Pikes Peak mountaintop, was not as intense early on Wednesday as the day before, but would likely build up again as the temperature rises during the day, fire information officer Rob Deyerberg said.
The number of evacuees stood at 32,000 on Tuesday night, before some residents in Woodland Park, population 7,600, and surrounding areas were also told to leave their homes, Deyerberg said. He could not provide a total number of evacuees.
“The evacuation area is expanding as a precaution,” he said.
While the Air Force Academy “continues to operate,” although closed to visitors, “a spot fire hit on a vacant, southwest corner of the grounds of the Air Force Academy.”
The Air Force Academy said the evacuation zone included two communities of single-family homes on its grounds housing around 2,100 civilian and military personnel and their families.
Despite the blaze, the academy will welcome a class of over 1,000 new cadets on Thursday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said.
The U.S. military have been doing their part in supporting the fire-fighting efforts in Colorado:
A C-130 aircraft, equipped with a modular firefighting system, drops retardant on a section of the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., June 26, 2012. Four of these aircraft, assigned to the Air Force’s 302nd and 153rd airlift wings, are helping civil authorities as they combat the fire. The 302nd Airlift Wing is based on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and the 153rd Airlift Wing is part of the Wyoming Air National Guard.
Vandenberg deployed the only Department of Defense wildland fire-fighting asset at 2 p.m. June 27 in support of the wildland fire fighting efforts in Colorado Springs.
A Vandenberg Hot Shots vehicle backs into the belly of a C-17 Globemaster here from March Air Reserve Base June 27. Eighteen members of the Vandenberg Hot Shot crew, along with two hot shots crew carrier vehicles, one superintendant support vehicle and one all terrain vehicle deployed to Colorado to support the wildland fire fighting efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Andrew Satran)
“This is national support at its finest,” said Mark Farias, Vandenberg Fire Department chief. “Vandenberg Hot Shots, being the only DoD hot shots, bring a critical skill set to the fight. These guys will be on the front lines of this wildfire using their training regarding wildfires and urban interface to save lives and structures in the state of Colorado.”
Air Force Master Sgt. Kevan Johnson, 153rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, Cheyenne, Wyo., prepares to load a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Firefighting System II onto a Wyoming Air National Guard C-130, June 24, 2012. The Wyoming Air National Guard MAFFS unit has been activated to support the Rocky Mountain area fires, and will base out of Colorado Springs, Colo. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natalie Stanley
Finally, the fire also affects and threatens animals, both wild and domesticated. In this case military working dogs.
Eight military working dogs and two handlers were given orders to evacuate the Air Force Academy June 26, and were relocated to Buckley where their dogs are currently being provided shelter.
My personal good luck wishes and prayers to our many close friends and to all in the Colorado Springs area.