5-acre brush fire that forced evacuations started by cigarette

Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 4:35 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2021 at 5:27 PM MST
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - A brush fire that burned dangerously close to homes and forced evacuations was caused by a cigarette, firefighters have confirmed.

Colorado Springs Fire Department Capt. Mike Smaldino confirmed Thursday that the 5-acre fire was started by the “careless disposal of a cigarette.”

The fire was first reported around 4:20 p.m. Wednesday on the hillside immediately east of the Garden of the Gods-adjacent Pleasant Valley neighborhood.

“We were dispatched to a reported grass fire here at 30th and Water,” Colorado Springs Fire Department Capt. Mike Smaldino said. “When our first engine got here, they reported that the hillside was on fire. Requested more units right away because we do have houses that are at the top.”

Three families were told to leave their homes immediately as the flames crawled up the hill towards their backyards.

“In total, we had five homes that we did do structure protection on up top on Cathedral,” Smaldino said.

“I was immediately scared, you know,” neighbor Rose Bennett told 11 News. “The fire down south here a few weeks ago was pretty scary. To me, it’s always frightening.”

Forty-seven firefighters responded to the scene and had the blaze under control in about an hour.

Smaldino says the homeowners had performed fire mitigation at some point in the days and weeks before the fire, and in doing so, played a significant role in saving their own homes.

“The fire did burn right up basically to the backsides of the homes. What the homeowners did up there, which was great, is they had the grass that was cut down. It did exactly what we were looking for. Fire came up to it, came back down to where we were able to get our hand lines there and actually pit the fire out and get it to a better location where we were able to put it out all the way.

“... What [the homeowners] did up top is basically just took their mowers or weed whackers and just kind of brought that grass down to a couple of inches off the ground. What that does for the fire is it basically takes fuel away and so for us, that really helps us out.”

There was no damage to any homes and no reported injuries.

“I’m so happy that they’re there for us,” Bennett said of the firefighters. “They’ve done a good job. They’ve battled the fires before and saved a lot of homes and a lot of lives.”

Smaldino said the fire was a timely reminder that there is no such thing as a fire season in Colorado Springs.

“Our fire season is all year long ... we’re here right here towards the end of January and we have a 5-acre grass fire.”

And isolated snow events won’t help if there’s a stretch of arid weather after.

“We had snow here just a few days ago, but this just proves our fuels are very dry. It just takes a few days [after a snow event]. We had wind today. kind of, you know, it was a bit warmer today, and so we have to be ready, you know, 365 for grass fires.”

Which is why any kind of careless fire behavior -- such as tossing a cigarette outside -- can result in a potentially catastrophic fire.catastrophic

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