Lessons learned from the Waldo Canyon Fire

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – In a previous interview with FOX21 News, firefighter Steven Thime said his job during the Waldo Canyon Fire was to help put in a dozer line behind the Flying W Ranch.

“You bring that down to mineral soil, knowing that when fire backs into it or approaches it that it stops the progress of the fire,” Thime said.

In order to strengthen the line, Thime said the plan was to burn off the mountainside and remove fuels from the fire.

“The plan was to eliminate all these fuels and theoretically save the city and Mountain Shadows,” Thime said.

But the back-burn never happened.

“We were aware, working with the national incident management team that the dozer line was being put in, the location that it was being put in, but there was never any discussion within the leadership group of the Colorado Springs Fire Department or with the federal incident management team to burn off from that dozer line,” said Colorado Springs Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Steve Dubay, who was also Deputy Fire Chief at the time of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

“They said ‘what do you mean burn it off?’ And I said well that’s what the plan is, and they said ‘yeah, we’re not doing that,” Thime said.

Both men agree that there is no way to know now what would have happened had it been done, but it adds to the list of tough lessons learned.

“We don’t view it in terms of if there’s going to be a next big event, there will be. It’s just a matter of when and where,” Dubay said.

Dubay said CSFD has come a long way since 2012 in wildland fire fighting.

“Our program has grown from a very small group of firefighters that had a limited amount of training to now a very large group of firefighters within the organization that have extensive training and experience.”

Dubay added all CSFD firefighters are now required to have basic wildland urban interface training.

“Clearly the threat from wildland fires is a big concern for this community,” he said.

Dubay said CSFD isn’t the only one who took notes and he hopes homeowners also remember the lessons learned, especially when it comes to mitigation.

“That ability to defend any kind of property whether it be the Flying W Ranch or the homes that were in that neighborhood are very much dependent on our partnership with those property owners and our partnership is dependent on them playing their role by mitigating their property prior to a fire ever occurring,” Dubay said.

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