Smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire, which pushed into Colorado Springs on June 26, photographed from the Air Force Academy grounds shortly before the Colorado Wing Encampment was forced to evacuate.
Photo by Cadet Staff Sgt. Alyssa Letts, Colorado Wing
COLORADO – The Colorado Wing has been assigned to provide the Federal Emergency Management Agency with aerial photographs of the historic Waldo Canyon and High Park fires and two smaller fires burning in western Colorado.
The wing is also continuing its fire watch flights for Douglas County, immediately north of El Paso County, where the Waldo Canyon fire is burning.
The wing has been conducting two flights a day since June 22, one from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. and the other from 4 p.m.-7 p.m., said Lt. Col. Mike McDonald, incident commander for the mission, which also includes ground support at the Donations and Collections Center for those affected by the High Park fire in Larimer County.
“With fires breaking out all over Colorado, Douglas County took a proactive approach by asking Civil Air Patrol to fly fire watch,” McDonald said.
The northern edge of Douglas County is high-density suburban and forms the southern edge of the Denver metropolitan area. About two-thirds of the county is rural, with large ranches in the east and the foothills of the Rockies and Pike National Forest in the west.
The CAP missions are being flown over the rural areas with fire concerns both in the forest and the grass lands.
“Thunderstorms form over the mountains in the afternoon and move eastward,” McDonald said. “Due to the severely dry conditions, lightning from these storms is a major concern for starting fires.”
During the first weekend the wing flew, aircrews reported three fires – not only the Waldo Canyon Fire but also a 400-acre grass fire and a fire in the mountains.
“The aircrew was the first emergency response crew on scene of this fire,” McDonald said. “The crew was asked to remain on station while ground and air fire resources responded and during their initial attack on the fire.”
Since then, he said, no new fires have been spotted, but the crews have kept watch on the Waldo Canyon fire as it moves northward toward Douglas County. Fortunately, the fire hasn’t been advancing very rapidly, if at all, in recent days, he said.
In Larimer County, the High Park fire began in early June as the second major fire of the early fire season. It has since become the second largest fire, in area, in Colorado history.
Members began assisting at the donations center June 18 as part of a mission that ended last night. After members of the public brought donations of household goods and clothing to the center, members helped unload vehicles, handled walk-in donations and sorted the items. They also helped distribute the donations to those affected by the fire.
As of yesterday, 227 members had signed in – since many worked multiple days, the actual number of participants was smaller – and volunteered a total of 1,768 hours at the center. On average, 20 CAP members a day helped out, some for a couple of hours, others for up to 12 hours.
Last week the wing’s commander, Col. Earl Sherwin, sent this message to the wing:
During an emotional debrief last night, Cathy Kissner, head of Donations Management (Adventist Community Services), said how much we all meant to the public we serve. Without going too far into details, she explained that we literally saved a family yesterday.
This family had been living in their vehicle after losing everything. They had become desperate, not realizing there was help available. The family’s desperation was relieved.
“We have touched many, many lives since our mission began. We’ve heard from the public their praise of our efforts. Their constant refrain is; ‘We all have to pull together.’ Thank you for helping us donate to the evacuees.”