FROM THE ARCHIVES: Waldo Canyon Fire evacuations going smoothly

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2012: It's been a long night for residents of Manitou Springs as an evacuation of the town enters its fifth hour of evacuations.

Citizens have been cooperative and understanding of the danger, the Manitou Springs Fire Department tells 11 News, adding that many already had their belongings packed and were ready to go long before officers arrived at their door.

The town has been divided into six different areas which are systematically being evacuated one by one. Officers are going door to door telling residents they have to leave, then moving to the next area after clearing everyone out. As of 6 a.m., the town is on the fourth area.

The evacuation, which is mandatory, encompasses all of Manitou Springs, including Crystal Park. According to the Census Bureau, there are about 5,000 people living in about 2,800 homes.

The Waldo Canyon Fire remains on the north side of Highway 24 Sunday morning, but is moving closer to the highway. David Hunting with the Manitou Springs Fire Department says the fire is only two ridge lines away from Cave of the Winds. It is also moving up Rampart Range Road.

Based on the latest estimates from the U.S. Forest Service, the Waldo Canyon Fire is between 2,000 and 2,500 acres. Winds are expected to pick up Sunday, creating heavier smoke in many parts of the greater Colorado Springs area. Flames up to 1,500 feet could be seen during the night jumping up around the ridge line, though overall Hunting said the fire did quiet down during the night. A few flare-ups were reported in Waldo Canyon.

Hunting tells 11 News a big worry Sunday is that blowing embers will spark a fire in Manitou Springs. With the town being evacuated, Hunting says the main concern for firefighters will be trying to save the buildings in town.

Cedar Heights subdivision near the Highway 24 end of Garden of the Gods and the Mountain Shadows subdivision south of Chuckwagon are also under a mandatory evacuation. Boundaries are Rampart Range Road to the west, and everything west of 30th and Centennial from Gateway Road to Chuckwagon. These evacuations, constituting 1,050 homes, are the only mandatory or voluntary evacuations inside the Colorado Springs city limits.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is still working towards a complete count of the number of evacuated homes in the Cascade area. Sgt. Joe Roybal was able to say that 250 homes were threatened in that area. Several thousand notifications were sent about the evacuations.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said there is no containment estimated at this time, but crews are aggressively combating the flames from the ground and air with several aircraft.

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

More resources are expected to respond Sunday.

"I think it's really an eye opener for our community," said Colorado Springs Fire Department representative Sunny Smaldino. "'Be prepared' is really what we're trying to tell everyone."

Just after 8 p.m. the current count showed 350 firefighters were attacking the Waldo Canyon Fire. That number is said to be fluid and expected to grow as the more resources arrive and check in. Their first priority remains structure protection.

Among those resources requested was a Type 1 team from the Forest Service. The sheriff says it may transition to their command on Monday.

Woodland Park and Cheyenne Mountain high schools are being used as an evacuation shelter for all evacuees. Animals can be taken to the Norris Penrose Equestrian Center, located at 1045 W. Rio Grande St.

The fire is said to be spreading both to the south and northeast. Wind directions will play a large part in that over the next few days. Firefighters will pay special attention to the weather reports to help determine where to attack.

The fire's cause is currently still unknown.

Currently, CSFD, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, Teller County Sheriff's Office, Manitou Springs Fire Department and the Cascade Fire Department are all responding. The Air Force Academy airfield is being used to stage helicopters.

The fire department asks that no one call 911 if they see smoke in the Waldo Canyon area, as agencies are getting flooded with calls. Anyone with non-emergent questions about this fire can call 719-955-0742.

Places under a mandatory evacuation are as follows:

-All of Manitou Springs, including Crystal Park.

-The Cedar Heights subdivision

-Gateway to 30th Street, 30th Street north to Centennial, Centennial north to Chuckwagon.

-Cascade area on the north side of Highway 24 from County Line east to Waldo Canyon

Some areas are still under a voluntary evacuation. These include:

-Chipita Park

-Green Mountain Falls

The northern part of the Mountain Shadows subdivision (beginning north of Chuckwagon) has had their voluntary evacuation status lifted, and is currently not under any kind of evacuation notice. Residents should remain prepared in case the situation changes.

Smaldino urges all people living in an area under a voluntary evacuation to pack enough belongings to get through at least 72 hours (three days) in case it changes to a mandatory evacuation.

Manitou Springs boasts a number of popular tourist attractions, all that have been closed Sunday. This includes access to Pikes Peak. Garden of the Gods park and visitor center have also been closed Sunday.

According to the CSFD, Rampart Range Road has been closed from Garden of the Gods or Woodland Park. Highway 24 currently remains open, though drivers are advised to avoid the area.

Seventy firefighters are currently responding, while air resources have been ordered to help slow the fire's aggressive growth.