FROM THE ARCHIVES: Manitou Springs evacuees return home

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MONDAY, JUNE 25, 2012: Manitou Springs residents were the recipients of rare good news in a weekend that saw the Waldo Canyon Fire gobble up at least 3,600 acres with no signs of slowing down.

"Oh my gosh, I get to go home!" one Manitou Springs resident exclaimed when she got the news that her town's evacuation order had been lifted. The town had been cleared house by house in the wee hours of Sunday morning. 11 News' Jesse Kurtz described the setting as eerie in the period prior to residents returning -- smoke blanketing the town, all the lights off -- and remarked how incredible it was to suddenly see the town fill up with life again.

Residents are advised to remain on alert for future notifications in case the situation changes again.

All other evacuations remain in effect, including Crystal Park. At the height of evacuations, approximately 13,542 residences were threatened. A complete list of all locations still under mandatory evacuations or pre-evacuation orders can be found by clicking here.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office says a few people have refused to evacuate, but law enforcement agencies have largely reported cooperation among evacuees.

The Waldo Canyon fire continues to threaten the western side of El Paso County, with significant spread possible west to Cascade and Green Mountain Falls, and south to the Cedar Heights subdivision -- where the fire has already come dangerously close, resulting in an order Sunday for all not evacuated from the neighborhood to leave immediately. The fire could potentially grow to the north and east as well. Officials estimate that at least 3,000-5,000 more acres could be burned.

"I think this is the greatest natural threat that we've seen in this community in the past thirty to forty years," said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa Sunday afternoon.

At this time, no injuries have occurred and no structures have been damaged.

Smoke columns, which can carry quarter-sized embers with them, remain a concern, as the smoke can drift more than a quarter-mile away from its point of origin, making areas within that range vulnerable to flare-ups.

Four hundred and fifty firefighters are aggressively combating the flames from the ground and air with several aircraft. Those ranks quickly grew throughout the day Saturday as resources were shifted off the Springer fire near Lake George, which is now fully contained.

"I think we're very fortunate. We have been able to get resources off the Springer fire to respond to this," Maketa said.

"I think it's really an eye opener for our community," Smaldino said Saturday. "'Be prepared' is really what we're trying to tell everyone."

Command of the fight against the Waldo Canyon fire has now transitioned to a Type I incident management team from the Forest Service. Previously, command was shared by several local agencies.

The fire's cause is currently still unknown.