ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MONDAY, JULY 2, 2012: For the first time, firefighters who battled the Waldo Canyon Fire are sharing their stories about how the flames charged into Colorado Springs and into the history books as the worst fire in state history.
The man in charge on that fateful day was Colorado Springs Fire Department Incident Commander Steve Rikker. He says he’s been through some pretty heavy firestorms, but nothing like what he witnessed in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.
"Honestly, I just stood at the hood of that truck and I took a deep breath and said, ‘It’s time to go to work,’ and that’s what everyone on this scene did."
Back inside the evacuation zone Monday, Rikker was faced with the 346 homes that his teams were unable to save. Thanks to their work, however, hundreds of other homes were left standing with little or no damage. "There is really no rhyme or reason to it,” he said.
Looking at the neighborhood now, Rikker described it as surreal.
"I've seen firefighters and police officers shed tears. Guys that I’d never seen that before with."
One of the issues firefighters faced as they worked in Mountain Shadows was deciding which homes they could try to save. Video, shot by the fire crews in the burn area, shows some of the unbelievable moments they faced.
The video was captured and narrated by Steve Schopper, a full-time photojournalist with the fire department.
“Fire trucks made a stand here and didn’t allow fire to get across the neighborhood,” Scopper says while taping on Ashton Park.
One of the homes left standing belongs to City Council President Scott Hente. He says it is hard to believe it’s still there after what he saw as he fled from his home.
"The ash had already started falling, the fire trucks were moving in. The sirens were going off, even the wind from the fire was making its own sound."
On the sidewalk in Hente’s neighborhood is a sign of the area’s spirit. Written in black soot is a simple message saying, “We will rebuild.”