COLORADO SPRINGS — Local media sprang into action as the Waldo Canyon Fire grew, airing updates 24-hours-a-day for several days in a row.
“At the time of Waldo Canyon, I was the News Director and evening anchor for FOX21 News,” said Joe Cole.
“Our web producer at the time called me and was like, ‘Hey, we have a report of a fire, can you come in early?'” said Brock Chambers, technical director.
Craig Coffey, current morning anchor, said no one at the station – nor the market – had ever covered a disaster of this magnitude in Colorado Springs.
“I was there the day the fire started,” said Abbie Burke, current morning anchor. “They set up media staging down at Walgreens’ parking lot along Colorado. And I remember that day it was so hot that the pavement was burning my feet through my shoes. And just the way the air felt that day, it was different.”
“Sunday morning early morning, they evacuated Manitou Springs and that’s when we decided, ‘Okay, that’s 10,000 people, we need to get in there,'” said Cole. “We need to get on air and start giving people information.”
“People needed us,” said FOX21 Chief Photographer Mike Duran.
“I think the longest day I worked was 22 hours,” said Duran. “And I remember going home at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., and feeling kind of guilty that I wasn’t still here.”
“It was like this mix of exhaustion and adrenaline and you want to sleep, but your mind can’t turn off,” said Burke.
“Something like this is when local news plays its best role as a public servant,” said Chief Meteorologist Matt Meister, who was working at KRDO Newschannel 13 at the time.
“I think local news helped out in a big way during the fire,” said Coffey. “People wanted to know what was going on. It wasn’t just us, it was every media outlet here locally, was around the clock. And that’s not a time where you try to compete and try to say ‘who’s better?’ We’re all coming together to provide that service.”
“When you have evacuations going on, it is super important to get that information to the community as quickly and as accurately as possible,” said Shane Crigger, current assignment desk manager, and executive producer at the time of the fire.
FOX21 News and the other local stations all carried daily press conferences live, allowing people to hear directly from those managing the fire.
“Getting that out there so that people can make what turned out to be life saving decisions,” said Crigger.
Reporters had to find the balance between covering the news and dealing with the impacts in their own lives.
“The eerie thing I remember is no matter where you went in town, just the smell of smoke,” said Chambers.
“When all the smoke came over the city, which was black and gray and blood red and orange, and just that combination, it looked so dramatic and so terrifying,” said Coffey.
“You’re trying to do your job and stay focused on that and try to give this information while at the same time, you’re like ‘the lives of people I know are changing right now,'” said Meister.
It became especially difficult once the fire blew into Mountain Shadows and started burning homes.
“You’re seeing the evacuation and you’re just wondering like how quick it came, did everyone get out?” Said Meister.
“I remember specifically something hitting me in the eye, on my eyelashes, and realizing that it was ash that was raining down on us,” said Duran.
“A lady came up to me and she said, I work overnights and I received a push alert from your station and she said ‘your push alert saved my life,'” said Cole.
“I got to take a media tour back into the burn area and I remember driving around with the fire department looking at just the devastation and we went into one neighborhood and it looked like the moon,” said Duran. “It was like no other landscape I had ever seen before and I just stopped and that’s when it really hit me. And I just kind of lost it emotionally and started crying.”
The Waldo Canyon Fire would forever change how local news covers fires in southern Colorado.
“I think we’re a lot more aware of wildfires now and the destruction [they] can have and how [quickly they] can happen,” said Coffey.
“I’d say we’re better prepared, we have more tools, we have more resources,” said Cole. “We definitely have a better handle on social media and how to use that tool.”
“Regardless of where it is now, if there’s anyone in the way of it, you respond quick, because we all got to see firsthand how fast they move and the extent of the devastation and destruction it can do,” said Meister.
Those who lived in Colorado Springs at the time of the Waldo Canyon Fire will likely never forget the impact it had on the city, but Crigger worries about those who weren’t here in 2012.
“The nature of the community is that so many people are in and out,” he said. “For the people that haven’t lived here forever, I think any time there is a fire they get the seriousness, but they don’t necessarily get the sense, or grasp, what it can do.”
“We can’t forget,” said Duran. “I want to make sure that the images and video that I take is something that we can look back on 10 years, 20, 50, 100 years from now and remember that this happened here in our community,” said Duran.
“That was a really hard but really important lesson that the entire community learned,” said Burke. “I think we are much more prepared now for an event like that. But the challenge is always going to be educating people who move from other areas.”
Another thing that stood out to reporters is how quickly Colorado Springs came together and rallied for those impacted.
“I remember people constantly reaching out to the station,” said Chambers.
“I know we may be divided at times but it was definitely inspiring,” said Duran. “To watch the community come together when other members of the community were in need. Watching all the people bringing the fire department water and Gatorade, people bringing us water and Gatorade and food, donating to Care and Share, breaking records for the amount of food given, it was so inspiring to see what this community can do for each other when we’re in a time of need.”