11 News has uncovered that a critical 911 call made during the Waldo Canyon Fire may have helped crews find the fire before it got out of control.
In the After Action Report released by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, they spell out what went wrong and what went right during their response to the Waldo Canyon Fire.
In the timeline, under Saturday, June 23, 2012, a call came in from a man who had seen the fire up close hours before crews knew where to go.
This is that call transcribed:
Dispatcher: “On Saturday, June 23, 2012 at 7:50 a.m."
Dispatcher: "This is the El Paso County Dispatch.”
Caller: “I’m calling on the suspected Waldo fire; I was running the trail today and went up on one of the dog legs after I smelled a little bit of smoke. There's a spot about a couple hundred feet wide that's still smoldering a little bit.”
Dispatcher: “Right....Pueblo Forest Service checked on that last night they said that they would be sending up another unit first thing this morning to check on it, but they are aware of it and they will be up there shortly this morning. Okay?”
Caller: “Yeah. I just wanted to make sure.”
Dispatcher: “Sure. Thank you.”
The dispatcher never took a name, contact information or an exact location. The caller had rushed down to his car to make the 911 call.
Fire crews already out searching for the fire were never told.
Four hours later, they were still struggling to find the fire when the flames erupted.
At that point, the Waldo Canyon Fire quickly grew out of control. It grew for three days, then reached Colorado Springs. It destroyed more than 300 homes and took two lives.
So could that call have been enough to stop it? We asked El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.
“We tried to recreate and to see whether it would make a difference. It doesn’t really matter if it would have or it wouldn’t have, a mistake was made--that’s a fact,” Maketa said.
This is the first time the call has been heard by the public, but the Sheriff’s Office says they were made aware of it just a few days into the fire.
In fact, it’s the first thing listed on the El Paso County Sheriff’s timeline in their After Action Report; they were well aware of its importance.
“It would have been nice to get his information, put him in touch with them to better direct them. Looking back, they were actually looking in the wrong area,” Maketa said.
The sheriff says they eventually found that caller after he made several more attempts to let them know he knew where the fire started. Turns out, he was a key player in their investigation.
“It wasn’t just a verbal description, he had actually taken photographs--and those photographs were key in finding the point of origin in the investigation,” Maketa said.
The sheriff told 11 News that the original call was not handled properly. We may never know if it would have changed the outcome of the fire.
Investigators say the pictures taken by the witness will not be released because the fire is still considered an open investigation.
As far as the dispatcher, the sheriff says she was disciplined and that she feels badly about what happened.