COLORADO SPRINGS — On June 23, 2012, a smoke plume rose into the sky over the Waldo Canyon area near Highway 24. Three days later, the city of Colorado Springs would be threatened by a very destructive, very fast moving wildfire.

Two people died when the Waldo Canyon Fire blew into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood on June 26, 74-year-old William Everett and his 73-year-old wife, Barbara.

In all, the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 346 homes in just 12 hours and damaged hundreds more. It also burned more than 18,000 acres. But the losses could have been much worse if not for the hard working firefighters who battled the flames nonstop. Crews worked 16 hour shifts, some longer, and sacrificed sleep and contact with their own families in order to protect their city.

FOX21 News sat down with two Colorado Springs Firefighters who were there in the midst of the fight.

“I look up and it’s right in front of me,” said Randy Royal now Chief of the Colorado Springs Fire Department. “The column is just this big tide column going straight up on the side of the mountain there and I can tell you that as soon as I saw that my gut just went ‘oh, this is bad.'”

Ten years later, it’s hard to imagine the wrath the Mountain Shadows Community endured during the Waldo Canyon Fire, but those who fought the fire, face to flames, experienced a living hell they’ll never forget.

“It was raining fire, embers,” said Royal.

Flames reached high into the sky and embers spread from home to home.

“We’re treating it just like you would triage medical patients,” said Royal. “We’re triaging structures at that point because we know people are safe, but it’s hard because you’re making the decision that we can’t save this person’s house.”

The Waldo Canyon Fire was unlike any fire Colorado Springs had seen in modern times.

“We had lost homes before in grass fires, but not to the magnitude of this,” said Battalion Chief Steve Wilch.

Firefighters sprang into action with local law enforcement by their sides, evacuating homes as quickly as possible.

“We had police officers and firefighters knocking on doors, verifying that people had left,” said Wilch.

“The good part of this whole story is that we did an amazing job and with the help of the public, they evacuated and we only lost two, who chose not to leave and then they were unable to leave.”

Still, losing the Everetts was hard for crews on the ground.

“If we would of known that we would have had the opportunity to save them, we would have tried everything we could,” said Royal. “We did have to go back and recover them, our crews did, same crews, and we’re sad. We don’t want it. We don’t want to lose anybody.”

The fire consumed everything in its path, moving 60 to 80 miles-per-hour at times.

“We had firefighters in position and we knew at one point we were going to have to withdraw and re-engage,” said Wilch. “So we had to withdraw to save our personnel and our equipment. And as soon as that fire front had come through this neighborhood, we immediately re-engaged and we had houses on fire and trees on fire.”

Exhausted firefighters did their best, relying heavily on their training and any past experience they had.

“You put your people in positions where they can do the most good at that point in time,” said Wilch. “You identify water supply, you identify resource availability, and you start plugging in your game plan.”

Firefighters fought until they literally couldn’t anymore, grabbing a quick rest before they were back on the job again.

“They would just lay down on the grass, like on the lawns, and try to take a 10 minute nap if they could,” said Royal.

“Every second and every minute counts that you’re taking an action, so there’s not a moment to sit and ponder” said Wilch.

But as the years have passed there has been plenty of time to ponder.

“We come back and revisit this area, and we do staff rides,” said Wilch. “We bring our people back in and we look at the fire and what it did and how it behaved and what we could do on a similar fire in another neighborhood in Colorado Springs, or a similar fire in this neighborhood again.”

Right now, firefighters are gearing up for a busy summer, noting that conditions have become hotter and drier in Colorado Springs over the years, meaning more fire danger.

“It just doesn’t bode well for the next couple of summers,” said Royal. “One of the things he said that stuck in my mind was what has been our hot temperatures are for the next couple of years going to be our normal temperatures and then the hot is going to be above that.”

Even with those concerns in mind, Royal said that, had Waldo happened now, it likely would have never become the fire it did, thanks to progressions in technology and communication.

The very first sign of smoke in the Waldo Canyon Fire was actually reported on June 22. Firefighters were sent to the area but they couldn’t find the single tree that was burning. Now, the CSFD has access to mutli-mission aircraft through state resources, equipped with infrared, which Royal said picks up on even small areas of heat.

“It would have picked up that tree, given us the latitude and longitude of it and we would send a crew up there and put it out before it even made a problem,” said Royal.

CSFD also has its own drones now and those also have infrared, said Royal. And with new communication measures in place, with both state and federal representatives, the fire department can be more proactive than ever.