Tapes show Colo. fire evacuations delayed 2 hours

AP News
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Posted: Jul 20, 2012 2:30 PM
Tapes show Colo. fire evacuations delayed 2 hours

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Colorado Springs authorities waited two hours after the huge Waldo Canyon Fire breached a predetermined evacuation trigger point before ordering some residents to leave their homes, according to radio conversations between firefighters and fire officials during the blaze.

Radio traffic reviewed by The Denver Post (http://bit.ly/Nn6NA0 ) indicated Colorado Springs officials failed to follow a preset plan as the fire raged toward the city on June 26.

As a result, panicked residents had only minutes to flee. Some residents were still packing to leave when their houses began to ignite, the newspaper reported Friday.

Officials said no one was killed or injured as a result of the delay, but one resident forced to leave said the lack of timely notice put lives in jeopardy.

"There were no police, no firemen. Nobody was around except some of the neighbors," said Bryan Gibson, who along with his son rescued his 86-year-old mother from their home. "If we hadn't shown up, my mother would have died in the fire."

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Richard Brown said he was unaware of the delay in ordering the mandatory evacuations and all aspects of the fire will be reviewed.

"My concern now is how do we learn from this? How do other communities faced with this learn? That is what we are about, learning and sharing what we have learned," Brown said.

Brown said once a fire comes into city property or city property is in the way of an oncoming blaze, the decision to evacuate comes to him.

But he could not answer why it took two hours to issue the order.

"I can't speak factually to that," he said.

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach acknowledged the close call in a meeting Wednesday with the City Council to discuss lessons learned from the fire.

"Fortunately no one was injured in that evacuation," Bach said. "It could have been a lot worse."

City Council president Scott Hente, whose home was damaged in the fire, said the city should review its evacuation procedures.

"One of the things we are going to look at very, very strongly is when do you evacuate in certain conditions and what are the trigger points," he said. "At what point do you risk angering your constituents to try to keep them safe?"

The Waldo Canyon Fire killed two people and destroyed more than 340 homes — including 145 in the area that received the delayed evacuation order.

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com